Uganda

by Luke, in Uganda
6th December, 2009
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Noah attended Daniel’s 3 year old birthday party yesterday. I was giving Mum a well deserved rest, so Noah tightly clutching Daniel’s birthday present, dutifully trotted down to Daniel’s party at the local village hall, with me in tow. I’d also just spent half an hour washing the car with Noah so needless to say, we were a little moist, but I’d slipped on a clean pair of shorts and Noah always looks sharp so we were in the zone. I thought with all these trips, having worked in townships, slums and refugee camps I would be used to an environment of chaos – not even close. To the uninitiated, a three year old birthday party is a league unto itself. If I was trying to simulate a full scale riot in the sleepy village of Martin, I could do no better than recruit a very sweet and polite Daniel and his pals and dish out loads of sweets. I’m surprised the police weren’t called – and if the had been they would have needed a riot squad.

I’m hoping this next trip will be a much a calmer affair. Uganda has come around quick – just a week back at home and we’re now back on a packed plane racing towards the next destination… Bit of a tough turn around this one but Adam is back on the crew and with the old hands of Marc and Nathan. The grand plan is to pull it out the bag and hopefully make a brilliant programme. Big focus on primates this one so I’ve been told I should feel right at home… whatever that is supposed to mean.

The long drive back

by Luke, in Uganda
15th December, 2009
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13hours of death defying driving constituted today. Marc, Adam and myself split the driving with Adam nailing the night drive section with virtually no functioning headlights – he said he felt very responsible for us all – touching stuff when you are bleeding from your knuckles gripping the seat. Nevertheless, we are once again here in Kampala safe and sound. Astonishing news is that Nathan slept – almost the whole way. Very impressive.
 
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Met up with Dave the aerial cameraman who is at this stage becoming a good friend – albeit a surreal one who I only meet in completely random places around the world. This is definitely a moment to flag up the amazing patience, dedication, work ethic and thoroughness of Pascal and Andrew from AJ Tours who have painstakingly organized all the logistics for this trip. Really great guys and if anyone ever comes to Uganda through WVS or otherwise, you’d be making a mistake not to have them looking out for you and making sure everything goes to plan.

Airline Food

by Luke, in Uganda
7th December, 2009
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Not one to make a fuss I would like to briefly mention that a staple diet of at least three meals a day has been a mainstay of the human civilization for thousands of years. BA have decided to reverse the trend, so checking in at 8am for a 10am flight, arriving at a local time of 10:45pm – qualifies each passenger to one meal, a pathetic egg and spring onion sandwich on limp brown bread – and a kit kat. Maintaining a fighting weight of 100kg is going to be a challenge on this trip with a start like that.

I did see the BA stewardesses once or maybe twice during the entire flight (there might have been two of them – I’m not sure), but if I had seen them a third time, I would definitely have asked for a glass of water or something to try to fill the aching chasm of hunger within. Needless to say, when we pitched up at the airport guesthouse about midnight (customs was an epic) – they had stopped serving food. We managed to plead a bowl of pumpkin soup so all was not lost but be warned if you ever fly BA to Uganda – you are going to pitch up wanting and thin. Start booking your tickets now.

Aerial action

by Luke, in Uganda
16th December, 2009
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The big aerial day with David the pilot and David the cameraman. Full on David-David action and they made some magic shots. Adam joined in to direct things and we kick started early hours (luxury 4 hours kip last night) with first a trip to see Angie and her gang at the rhino sanctuary. They took me along for this bit and I then proceeded to stand in the bush about 20metres away from a wild bull rhinoceros as the helicopter flew overhead. As the rhino charged from the bush directly towards me, I turned to see that Godfrey the ranger had promptly left me for dust and Adam has a great shot of me legging it from a clearing as a 2 tonne rhino crashes past. Thankfully the rhino settled down pretty quickly and didn’t seem to mind the helicopter once it got used to the noise and I had no idea I could run at that sort of speed – and neither did anyone else.

Once we had that in the bag, David swooped us back to Kampala, I nipped off in the truck for driving shots and then promptly got lost. An hour and a half later I somehow miraculously managed to find my way back to the hotel in the city centre through rush hour traffic. No idea how that happened but today has been all about my secret powers. Running and driving – all going on here.

The aerial team slipped off to Ngamba to nail some chimp shots of the island and now we are back at base and all looking a touch shabby, except for Nathan who spent the day ‘editing’ in the hotel. Somehow he has that steely glint of alertness that we just can’t seem to shake, no matter how grueling the pace.

I think Marc will now feel a huge weight off his shoulders now it has all come together but breaking news is that one of the dogs we needed to revisit tomorrow has been released, so big drama and that may well sink Marc into a deep depression just when he was almost feeling good. Hopefully a pizza and chips will turn him around – can’t beat good local food.

p.s. still can’t send e-mails – driving us all nuts – can receive them though which is tantalizingly keeping me in touch. Steve, if you happen to read this the key is 1000square meters with outbuildings. I know it is big but I reckon that’s the business. Helen – that is a huge bill, I am crying into my empty bank account. Tess – thanks for getting Lee on the case with those website changes, Khageshwaar – so sorry to hear about the dog, you did all could, re the other one, do the preds every day for a week, then reduce to every other day for a week and then half the dose and do that every other day for a third week then stop. Let me know if there has been any improvement next week, fingers crossed. Mum – looking forward to seeing you on boxing day – going to be great!

Ngamba Island

by Luke, in Uganda
7th December, 2009
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When you do arrive – Ngamba island is amazing. A chimp sanctuary of note, amazing animals, wonderful work and a brilliant start to the mission. Anyone can come here as they run a strong eco-tourism project alongside the charitable work.

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We spent the afternoon with Baron and Africa – two orphaned infant chimps that the team here had rescued, integrating themselves to the 41 strong community of chimps that live on the island. Africa’s mother had been caught and killed, her parts harvested for witchcraft – baby Africa was rescued by local authorities and Ngamba stepped in to do the rest. Baron is missing a finger on his right hand after being caught up in a snare when he was very young. Captured and used for the illegal pet trade, he was subsequently confiscated and is now living it up with the staff here. Their integration to the community here is a long process as the chimp social heirachy is complex and delicate so they need to first bond with the juveniles (5yrs-8yrs) then when they have made some friends, bond with the sub adults (8yrs-12yrs), finally they will bond with the adults (12yrs+) whereby hopefully one of the adult females will adopt each of them respectively before they meet the alpha male of the community. Scary business meeting a big troop of chimpanzees – 98.7% DNA same as us, adult males have the strength of five men – definitely a question of talking when spoken too. Wonderful interaction with the chimps today and more planned for tomorrow – I wouldn’t say I feel right at home as I miss it too much, but these animals are easy company and brilliant fun. Great start to the trip.

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Aerials over Kampala

by Adam the Cameraman, in Uganda
16th December, 2009
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I love aerial day!

Aerials are a big deal, it involves a lot of work behind the scenes as production managers, co-ordinators are having to deal with uncooporative customs agents and having to pay huge deposits so that the specialized aerial filming equipment can be imported and then exported out of the country. Dave the Cineflex operator then flies out to wherever we are with all his gear. A cineflex is basically a gyro stabilizer mount for the camera which is rigged to the front of the helicopter. It is controlled by a massive console unit, a bit bigger than a Playstation(!) which is operated by Dave. Whatever the pitch, speed, angle or vibration of the helicopter, Dave has full control and delivers a smooth and steady picture.

The helicopter was parked at the private hospital in Kampala. The company that runs it is owned by Simon Everett, who happens to be Rupert Everett’s (the actor) older brother.

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We decided to divide our aerial day in three 2 hour stints.

The first 2 hours we flew up to the Rhino sanctuary about 150km north of Kampala. We took Luke up on this flight, dropped him off on the ground when we got there and filmed him from the air as he went looking for rhino’s with the head ranger. This shot would then tie in with the ground shots we had already filmed a few days before.

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We flew back to the Hospital, parked up, had some lunch, met up the Marc and Nathan and organised our next shoot which involved filming Luke driving around the Ugandan countryside and through small towns and villages and filming aerials of Kampala and anything else that looked interesting from the air.

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The last aerial shoot was during magic hour, just before sunset. We flew over lake Victoria towards Ngamba Island, filming all the chimps that we had met on our first day.

We got a great shot of the Alpha male chimp as was slightly distressed by the presence of the helicopter over his patch of land, he was going besrk, throwing rocks and branches, while all the other chimps cowered away from him.

First Contact

by Adam the Cameraman, in Uganda
7th December, 2009
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It was great to be back on a Vet Adventures trip. I had to miss Peru and Nepal as I was busy on another project, but I was in safe hands as Simon the Cameraman did a great job.
 
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First day of shooting meant catching a small speedboat from Entebbe over Lake Victoria to Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, where Luke was to experience the great work being done by the team who rescue, rehabilitate and return chimpanzees back into the wild.

That morning the skies had opened and it had rained cats and dogs, with a few rumbles of thunder and a lightning strike on our hotel!! By the time we were on the one and a half hour speed boat cruise over the lake the sun had burnt off the dark clouds and we were all excited on the prospect of filming chimpanzees for the first time.

Lawrence, the manager of the project, showed us around the sanctuary; we filmed Luke feeding the chimps from a platform and then enter one of the enclosures and met some of the young chimpanzees that had still to be introduced into the larger community of adult chimpanzees.

Not having filmed chimps before I wasn’t sure what they would do to us and the camera for that matter. Despite them being young, between 2 to 5 years of age, they definitely packed a punch and have sharp fangs to boot!

As time went on we got more comfortable to the surroundings and the chimps seemed to warm to us, especially the smallest one Rambo, aptly named as he tore around, throwing himself onto everyone, slapping each one of us on the back of our legs as he raced past. A real “cheeky monkey”!

Before any primatologist decides to scold me, I must remind everyone that chimps are not monkeys, they are primates.

The bright red sun descended behind lake Victoria as millions and millions of fruit bats came out of a distant forest covering the sky in small dots. What a spectacular end to a great day.
 
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Last Day

by Nathan the Assistant Producer, in Uganda
17th December, 2009
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So, it’s my last shoot day of the whole series and it’s been one hectic ride. Unfortunately I’m going to be back in the office editing during the final trip to Costa Rica so I finish now. First of all I would like to say a big warm thank you to AJ Tours in Uganda who have been tremendous throughout: Pascal, Andrew, Adam and Thierry have been brilliant help to us all and are really amazing people. If you ever venture to Uganda I would highly recommend you contact them.

And all that’s left now is for me to say thank you to all the charities throughout the series. It has been a tremendous experience and one that I will never forget. The first four episodes go out on Sky One on the 28th February and I can’t wait to see them. For all the people reading this blog there is one last wish, and no it’s not about saving my name from the scoundrel that is Mr Luke “the talent” Gamble. It is much more important than that. When you watch the series think about the work that is actually being done by WVS all the time and the support they so desperately need. They help some amazing charities and are doing work that is essential in many countries around the world. I hope that this series inspires people to help animals across the world and become part of something I truly feel is making a difference.

Chimps But No Otters

by Nathan the Assistant Producer, in Uganda
8th December, 2009
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We’ve been filming at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and it has been brilliant. Seeing these creatures close up has been really magical and the walk in the forest with them was something that will stay with me for life (the fact it poured down with rain only made it more special in some way).

My brother had been to the sanctuary a month before on holiday and the one thing he said was amazing was the otters that bathed around the island. I had a search for them but they were obviously off hiding at that moment, although I can’t complain as the chimps were the real stars of the island.

It’s (another) wrap!

by Luke, in Uganda
18th December, 2009
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Big last day – lots and lots to do beore our flight at midnight, but it went with a blur and we managed to squeeze everything in. Yes, we did catch the dog and it was a big op… Pascal saw us off with a fantastic congolese dinner – delicious. What a great guy and all his team were all there to send us off; Andrew, Thierry, Adam and Lawrence from Ngamba also joined us which was great. Really lovely way to finish the trip and remember the great people we have worked with and met.

The big sad bit though was the fact it was Nathan/Bruce/Narender/Chai/Lupe Carr’s last day on a shoot with the crew. He will now be locked in a box like room editing shows for the next three months – looking at me endlessly for 12hours a day on about three tv screens. Lucky guy.

Uganda and the gorillas was a great way to end his trips with us – none of us will forget this one – or any of them for that matter – but it will be strange doing the last one without him. I’ll miss his silence and daytime sleeping patterns, the constant efforts to try to touch my microphone and change batteries and his general ability to blend as a native into any country in the world, but most of all, I’ll miss having someone who has become one of my good friends along for the ride. Thanks buddy and I’ll be sure to think of you sipping coffee in the edit suite when I’m on another 14 hour flight in a few weeks, economy, Iberia style. Rock on.