Chambura Gorge sneaks up on you and its appearance - a deep forested gash across the Rift Valley floor - can take your breath away. Despite its misty beauty, the name Chambura has an ominous ring to it. In the local language it means "search and fail" – so called because the fast-flowing river on the bed of the gorge together with crocodile and leopard meant that tribal hunters who went missing stayed missing.
As I peered over its rim onto the top of the gallery forest below, a violet-blue Ross's turaco, perched atop a towering Uganda ironwood, "k-k-kowed" in fright and took to the air, flashing brilliant red underwings. Echoing across the forest were countless other sounds: the "Hello Georgie" cry of the emerald cuckoo; the woody croak of a black-and-white cusped hornbill; the grunt of hippo; the bark of baboon. Black and white colobus monkeys, looking like little bearded men in dress shirts and tailcoats, squinted up at us comically from the top of the canopy and then went on foraging.
A steep path led into the gorge and as our ranger Sabu shepherded us down, a red-eyed dove took up its usual complaint: "Oh dear, my eyes are red. Oh dear. . . ." Like all other trackers I spent time with in Uganda, Sabu was a true professional.....committed, knowledgeable and easily able to identify animals, birds or plants in both English and Latin. "Come," he said with a wide grin, "we descend."
Down at river level a troop of olive baboons crashed across the path, trotted along some horizontal boughs and lowered themselves into the abundant undergrowth. Soon afterwards we heard the chimps. A hard, rugby-ball-shaped fruit thudded down almost at my feet before I realized we were beneath the troop. For a moment I couldn't make out what my binoculars had focused on as I swung them upwards, then realized I was looking at the hairy backside of a large primate perched comfortably above me as it scoffed the bright yellow fruit.
The chimp leaned forward and peered down, looking slightly peeved, took a bite then peered again, as though he had second thoughts about the creature gaping up at him. It could have been my imagination, but his expressions seemed both human and entirely understandable.
His next move was so elegant that if I wasn't glued to my binoculars I'd have applauded. He stood up and with one hand grabbed the branch he was standing on, swung under it (still holding with one hand), let go at precisely the right point in his swing to catapult himself spread-eagled onto a lower cluster of leaves way too thin to hold his weight. But he merely held on as the branch bent, then let go as his feet were deposited neatly on a lower bough. Then he sat down, gave our group a hard look and peed loudly onto the leaf-covered forest floor. His last action left me in no doubt who the alpha male was around that neck of the woods.
As we left the gorge a lioness broke the cover of a euphorbia thicket, bounded across some open grassland and dived down a path into the gorge we'd just vacated. Somehow I hadn't reckoned on lions, but it made me remember the place's name - Chambura....where people go but do not come back.