Ishasha Time (And The Slow Safari Movement)December 12, 2012
Most people have heard of the concept of slow food – the movement against a globalised, homogenised food industry that promotes local businesses and sustainable growing methods. After slow food came ‘slow travel’ – the art of getting away from the crowds and spending more time fully connecting with your surroundings. Safari holidays always used to fit this profile by default – but as African destinations become more popular it has got harder to get off the beaten path and enjoy an authentic safari experience.
Well, nowhere exemplifies the ‘slow safari’ ideals better than Uganda – often overlooked for its more established neighbours (and therefore less crowded) despite a stunning diversity of scenery, wildlife and culture. And nowhere in Uganda does slow safari better than the wild plains of Ishasha and its eponymous Wilderness Camp.
This remote, southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, with its wide, grassy plains framed by distant mountain ranges, delivers a more private and intimate safari experience than elsewhere in this popular Uganda wildlife park. The area is excellent for game drives, with lots to see, and has become most famous for its tree-climbing lions. Whilst these are undoubtedly a fascinating sight, visitors often plan for no more than a quick game drive around Ishasha whilst en route to Bwindi to see the gorillas.
The more patient visitor, with time on their hands, will be rewarded with some excellent encounters in addition to scouting for these arboreal-loving felines. Take the time to explore Ishasha’s northern and southern circuit and you might experience any number of magic moments: a long-tusked matriarch leading a large herd of elephants across the wild grasslands (the area used to lay claim to the largest number of mega-herbivores in all of Africa); a Topi calf suckling on its mustard-stockinged mother; a troop of cheeky Colobus monkeys chattering in the treetops; or a pair of Hyena coming home from hunting at dawn.
It can even be something as simple and seemingly prosaic as a fresh pile of elephant dung. God is in the detail, as the phrase goes, and on one game drive, we sat and watched a heaving fibrous mass of fresh dung as numerous beetles and insects set about their business. The minutes ticked by, and we stared fascinated, wondering at the complex interplay of the natural world around us. The tree-climbing lions were out there – somewhere – but they could wait til later. This was ‘slow safari’ at its best.
Ishasha is also blessed with a beautiful tented camp, situated on the banks of the Ntungwe river in a verdant riverine forest teeming with a myriad of birdlife. Ishasha Wilderness Camp has always had a great reputation but recent renovations have turned this from a quality mid-range tented camp to an exclusive ‘luxury in the wilderness’ property that truly echoes the ‘slow safari’ sentiment.
The rooms are made out of wooden structures with canvas wall and net inserts. Inside, the ceilings are draped with white cotton, creating a romantic, airy ambience, and the floors are lined with rugs, made from colourful off-cuts of traditional African kitenge fabric. A spacious, walk-in shower area dominates the en suite bathroom, with a large sink and dressing area lined with gleaming hardwood shelves and mirrors – there is even a selection of luxurious lotions and potions for pampering, all sourced locally. ‘Glamping’ was never this glamorous.
Ultimately, guests at Ishasha enjoy all the style and ambience of the classic canvas tented camp experience, but with all the comfort and facilities of a much more permanent lodge. Despite this, the camp strives to maintain the lightest of footprints and little things ensure this does happen – hot water is still provided on demand only, the flushing toilet is of a special eco-design – but nothing takes away from the guest experience.
The lodge food, whilst always known to be good, has improved significantly under the camp’s latest manager Neil – a professional chef in a former life. Dinner is four courses served on crisp, white linen under starlight, with each dish more delicious than the last. Breakfast is an incredible array and a cut above the standard fare – with chunks of freshly-baked granola and home-mixed muesli; locally grown, wild Tree Tomatoes glistening in the fruit platter; and the kitchen was kind (and talented) enough to satisfy an eccentric request from one of our group for Crumpets. This old-school English classic was duly whipped up using local posho (maize flour) – giving it a uniquely Ugandan twist. Fusion cooking at its best? It was certainly a perfect example of the right way to blend local ingredients whilst keeping your clients happy and your food miles minimal.
Ishasha, both the place and the camp, is an ideal base for someone who wants to immerse themselves in their safari and doesn’t like to follow the crowd. Spend a few days watching the savannah wildlife here en route to your gorilla trekking encounter in Bwindi and you can forget African Time. Instead, be prepared for Ishasha Time to take over, as you enjoy game drives around the northern and southern circuits, or a private bush breakfast served out in the wilderness. Even those who like to spend an afternoon relaxing at camp with a pair of binoculars next to an ice-cold drink, will sometimes spot elephants or hippos at the crossing point downstream from the camp.
After all, good things come to those who wait.
Post written by Anne-Marie Weeden, General Manager of Journeys Discovering Africa, who visited Ishasha on a recent safari of south-west Uganda. Contact her and the team to quote your Ishasha safari by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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