Blog of Our Trip to Uganda Creating a Virtual Travel Experience

By September 25, 2015 No Comments
MAY 22 – 2015
Virtual Reality adventure Uganda #day 1
The Amsterdam Film Company started an amazing project together with touring agency Matoke Tours: we will create virtual reality travel films of the most special places and animals from Uganda, including the elusive mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, boat safaris, a hot air balloon safari and many, many more. Everyday we will try to write a little blog post of our adventures.
An hour or two ago we arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, after a relaxing trip with KLM. Here we will sleep one night and then tomorrow morning travel by road to Uganda. Our first destination is the Mutanda Lake Resort, situated on the foot of the hill where some of  the last 800 (!) mountain gorillas live. The reason we flew on Kigali is that from here the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a lot less far away than from Entebbe (Uganda).
So, day after tomorrow we have our first gorilla tracking … excited! We’ll keep you posted!
Charging everything takes time

Charging everything takes time

MAY 23 – 2015
Virtual Reality Safari in Uganda #day 2
Today, after a wonderful 4 hour journey through beautiful Rwanda, we arrived at Mutanda Lake Resort ( What a breathtakingly beautiful place this is! Unfortunately, we now have trouble uploading images (let alone videos) since the internet connection here is not particularly fast. But then again, we are in the middle of a valley, surrounded by mountains, on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home of the mountain gorillas! It’s pretty amazing there as well is the possibility of going on the internet.
Today we made our first (virtual reality) recordings. Peter shot many beautiful images of the trip and especially this resort and the surrounding area. If there is better access to the internet we will add some photos to this blog post, so you can see firsthand how special this place is.
To be quite honest, the filming in 360 (virtual reality) went not quite as smoothly.. Managing six cameras and sound in a secluded area, brings with it the necessary problems. Think of a battery that fails, a camera that independently changes it’s settings, a memory card that’s full, etc.. And then there are the human errors, like forgetting to turn on the audio recorder : – ). Ultimately, we believe we did manage to make exactly the shots we wanted today.
Tomorrow at 05:30 we go on our first gorilla tracking. We are very excited!
Shooting incredible footage at Lake Mutanda

Shooting incredible footage at Lake Mutanda

MAY 26 – 2015
Virtual Reality adventure Uganda #day 3, 4 & 5
Wow, what a day.. Unfortunately not previously been able to post a message regarding the very limited internet at Lake Mutanda. We wrote a blog post yesterday, which comes first.
Day 3 & 4
Today it proved a good five hours of hiking through the ‘Impenetrable Forest’ of Bwindi National Park. It was quite hard but more than worth it when we came face to face with the Bweza group: two silverbacks (of which one dominant), four black backs (young males), three females and two young ones of which one only two months old. Many beautiful images were shot today.
Also yesterday, after hours of struggling through the jungle, we finally had an unforgettable experience. Once near the gorillas (we could hear and smell them) we had a small river to cross. One of the porters, who at the same time carried our tripods, was
making a bridge out of small trees and bush on the spot so that we may cross. As he was just about to finish, a ranger signaled that the gorillas had crossed the river on the other side..
We were preparing our cameras and the guide started with the final instructions. In the middle of his story a massive silverback came out of the bushes and went on to sit only a few meters away, quietly eating as if we weren’t even there. Beautiful.
One of the funniest and most special moments was probably when a young gorilla grabbed the 360 camera rig and it began to play with it. Eventually we had to pull the rig out of his hands as he was trying to walk away with it! If all went well, we have beautiful videos of this day.
Okay, that’s it for now. Tomorrow is another early day as we depart for Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we will first make a short stop in the Ishasha sector of the park to see the ‘tree climbing lions’. For an unknown reason lions here choose to relax in the trees which should result in beautiful images! Tomorrow we will also see our first elephants, buffaloes, antelopes and many other impressive animals.
Day 5
Today we had a superb day. We left the beautiful Mutanda Lake Resort behind us, heading for Queen Elizabeth National Park: one of the largest nature reserves in Uganda. Today we made a pit stop in the Ishasha area of the park, trying to find lions. The special feature of the lions in Ishasha is that, in the heat of the day, they are often found in fig trees. This is something lions do virtually nowhere else. Unfortunately today we did not find any lions.
Luckily we did find a lot of other wonderful animals including many elephants, buffaloes, monkeys and several types of deer. Perhaps one of the highlights was a dead buffalo with a lot of bickering vultures around it. In particular the image of a vulture who made his head and neck fully disappear in the behind of a buffalo is still vivid in our minds. A dead python of more than 3 meters long was also pretty impressive. A tense moment we experienced with a group of elephants just meters away, the matriarch (the group leader) tried to chase us away with trampling and trumpeting.
Tonight we sleep at the Ihamba lodge, in a proper luxury cottage. We can hear the hippos in Lake George just a few meters away. Tonight they will come out of the water and graze around the cottages!
Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see more impressive, preferably living animals. That should work with a few hours of game drive and a boat safari!
Buffalo carcas we found along the way

Buffalo carcas we found along the way

MAY 27 – 2015
Virtual Reality Safari Uganda 6th day
Today was a summer breeze compared to the days behind us. Cruising with our Jeep through Queen Elizabeth National Park, while the sun was shining and little deer jumped around. A hippo was taking a bath and a baboon was scratching his ass. The start of a day without worries.
Nature continues to amaze us with it’s breathtaking beauty and we are doing our best to capture the coolest moments in Virtual Reality film. The feeling of standing beside a troop of elephants? Check. Buffaloes wallowing in a waterhole? Check. Occasionally Daan risks his life to put the rig as close to the subjects as possible. Everything for the ultimate safari experience! By now, we can safely say that we are on the right track.
After all the chaos of the first days, with failing mics, refusing cameras and human mistakes, we have become a well-oiled machine: a swat team in 360 movie. We exchange cards and juggle with batteries, while the Jeep continues to hurtle across the savannah. We pinch mics in the trees and the grass and hiss between our teeth to make the deer look up into our cameras. Everything for the wow factor…
Our guide Big Sam turns out to be not only a perfect guide but a brilliant actor as well as he does what he can to make the virtual safari trip as successful as possible. Thnx Sam!
This afternoon, we made a boat trip along the river. Aside from the few drops of rain it was a pleasure trip full of birds, elephants and hippos. Tomorrow we go again with a smaller boat to get closer to the animals. Who knows, we might be able to capture some nice action shots.
Tonight we sleep in Mweya Lodge, one of the top lodges in Uganda and this afternoon we have been there to explore the place. The word WOW! is once again in place here. What a luxury and opulence in the middle of the savannah. You can see elephants bathing in the river from the terrace of the swimming pool, and on the driveway you are welcomed by the house-mongoose. In the bar hangs a life-size buffalo head. Since we are also going to shoot some footage of this resort we can count on the biggest room: being innovative has its advantages : -).
Our next activity is a lion ‘gps’ safari tracking. Tomorrow morning we go out with a group of researchers and will try to capture the king of beasts with our six cameras. Roar!
Wow, Mweya Lodge!

Wow, Mweya Lodge!

MAY 28 – 2015
Virtual Adventure in Uganda Day 7
This morning we got up again at 5:30, something we have almost become used to. The alarm here rings before the sunrise and we sleep on average 5 hours a night, since after filming we often still need a long time to organize everything we shot that day and then make everything ready for the next day. And then we also have to write a blog : -)
The lack of sleep doesn’t trouble us. In the morning we joke about the fact that we are really going to take some rest this evening, something that never really seems to work. Once we’re back in the jeep we feel energized and ready for the day. What do you expect in such an environment and with the project we’re working on!! We therefore like to remind each other of how amazing it all is. “We’re doing this man!” often sounds from the jeep as we go along.
Today, we went along with a researcher to look for lions. This man, named James, examines a group of tagged lions. We had expected that James would find them with some high tech gadget, à la Google maps, and we would just drive straight over to them. “Turn left after the warts piglets, straight along after the buffalo and second right after the elephants,” but after being greeted by him, he walked up with something still best described as an old iron laundry rack and positioned himself on the roof of another Jeep. Waving his laundry rack in the air, James looked for the right signal by listening. A funny sight, a man on a roof in search of lions. James is not afraid.
After a good two hours of driving the desolate savanna, with James frantically waving his laundry rack the whole time, we arrived at a volcanic crater which is used by the locals for salt extraction. James had stopped swinging. There had to be some lions around, maybe even 20 of them! James’ work appeared to have paid of! There they were, panting in the sun: lions. A few females, some cubs and a male. The male roared loudly several times as we drove up. What a sound! Your instinct tells you instantly that you should run away, but the urge to keep looking from the roof of the safari jeep remains stronger. We put our gear on 360 and shot a few great images of a growling lion and some little ones. James was a bit nervous and asked us to be quiet. He was still sitting on the roof and saw that one of the lionesses was looking at him rather hungrily. Luckily, he was holding a laundry rack for defense : -P.
Later on during the day, we ended our 2nd boat safari satisfied. This time from a small private boat, the experience was totally different than the big boat yesterday. Our captain knew to dock at a bathing place full of elephants, buffalo and hippos. We could almost touch the elephants, I think the distance was a meter or six. A fantastic experience and exciting, because you feel very vulnerable in such a small boat. There was much to see. Elephants swam, buffalo fought, hippos came out of the water and birds flew all around. The Garden of Eden. Straight from the Bible. This was undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best VR scene we’ve shot here. Tomorrow we go on a Balloon Safari, will our rig hold, hanging from the balloon?
The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden

MAY 29 – 2015
Virtual Adventure in Uganda Day 8
Yesterday evening the time had come: finally we were managed to be done early in the afternoon. We quickly went to work with our cards, chargers and blog, while chilling at the pool in the sun. We knew for sure, tonight we could finally go to sleep early and for more than five hours, maybe even seven or eight. After a day or 8 without one good long night, this seemed like heaven to us. And, we might even have a bit of an evening. We felt blessed discussing this as the man who would guide our Balloon Safari even came to talk about our shoot. “Yes gentleman,” he said. “We will be leaving a 4:30 tomorrow and the balloon will rise at 6 o’clock.” Daan and I looked at each other puzzled and in disbelief. “But, but the balloon was planned at 7:00 wasn’t it?” Daan tried in vain. But, the man was adamant. If we wanted to film the sunrise, this was the only choice. Again we would not be able to sleep longer than five hours.. it seems meant to be this trip. We could laugh about it.
So it was that at 4:00 the alarm went and we placed ourselves half asleep in the van that would take us to the place where the balloon was departing. Along the way we encountered a number of hyenas and a ranger who would not let us leave the park. Our accompanying crew, two police officers, a waiter and a guide nearly went berserk. “Is this your first time at the gate, it must be his first, why would you do this man, do not make it hard.” But the guard refused to be intimidated and refused to let us through. We were simply not on his list and protocol is protocol in Uganda, there is no deviation from that. Our guide Sam angrily began calling around to get someone of higher power and swore that this man would lose his job. If it would take any longer we were going to miss the sunrise from the balloon. In all the commotion Daan walked up to the guard (Sam had advised him not to), chatted and explained what we were doing. A minute later, the guard opened the gate for us. Daan saved the Sunset and made everyone happy.
In the middle of the savannah, the basket was unloaded and in the twilight they began with inflating the balloon, a pretty sight. The captain checked wind direction and meanwhile we convinced our guide Sam to join us in the balloon. Something he, like us, had never done. After a few minutes doubt he was convinced, we would ascend to the sky as boys and return to the ground as men of the air.
It was wonderful to see the excitement in Sam’s eyes. As a guide, he has toured Queen Elizabeth National park by Jeep, driving his clients, but he never saw it from above. He showed us everything, excited for him to see places he knows so well and amazed at the variety of animal tracks, which you can see from the air in the tall grass.
For us it was a fantastic experience to float in such a relative calm over the African soil. We eventually rose to 6000 feet, and looking straight down is pretty scary. Daan stunted for a bit to re-attach the rig mid-air. One mistake and it would all be over. After two hours we landed safely on the ground, where in the middle of the savanna a real champagne-breakfast was ready for us. Life is good at the moment.
Later we arrived at the Papaya Lodge near Kibale Forest, where we will go hiking tomorrow and hopefully see chimpanzees. Our last day of safari. Wow the time passed quickly. Fortunately, we can relive it later again in virtual reality and then everyone can enjoy!
Working the 360 rig at 6.000 feet

Working the 360 rig at 6.000 feet

Men of the air

Men of the air

Virtual Reality adventure in Uganda # 9
Today is the last real day of our trip. An incredibly beautiful trip we can say. Tree climbing lions, swimming elephants, intimidating buffaloes and impressive mountain gorillas; we have seen it all. More importantly, we have captured it all in virtual reality.
This morning we, of course, again woke up around 23:47. This time to be on time for the chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest.
Tonight I was startled by the feeling that something was stalking me or passed me really fast. When I woke up at 04:30 and turned on the light an animal shot passed me by in my mosquito net. I thought a big lizard or something. Turns out there had been a squirrel in my bed the whole night..
When you want to visit the chimpanzees in Kibale Forest, you have two options: you can do a tracking whereby you have about an hour to be with them, or you do the chimpanzee ‘Habituation program’ whereby you can stay all day. The latter is what we have done today. What a great experience to see chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Their screams could be heard from hundreds of meters away and up close the sounds are really very impressive. Especially when the alpha male is greeted by other males this happens with almost deafening screams. We both felt the chimpanzees are perhaps the coolest experience of this trip, although we do have a lot of very beautiful moments to choose from.
The technique that we have now used for our VR movies, seems to work very well. During the trip we have tried putting short scenes together to make sure we were doing well and learn from any mistakes. It seems that the scenes have all succeeded from take 1. This means the first VR movie we made is of a mighty silverback mountain gorillas in central Africa!
Anyone interested may soon visit us to fly in a balloon above the crater lakes of Queen Eizabeth National Park, stand on a boat just yards from a herd of elephants or even between two hungry lions!
With visiting chimpanzees, the end of our virtual reality adventure is in sight. Tonight we spend one more night at the beautiful Papaya Lodge: perhaps the most beautiful place we have stayed. Tomorrow we leave for Kampala with a detour along the orphanage that Sam, our guide, has set up and where he is still involved in. We will produce a short film for their website, which they can hopefully use to raise funds.
In Kampala, there are a few things that we want to capture in virtual reality and ‘normal’ film. Frankly, I especially look forward to the barbecue with our friends of Matoke Tours and some acquaintances whom I have not seen for a long time!
A well earned Mojito at Papaya Lodge

A well earned Mojito at Papaya Lodge

VR Gorilla is an Amsterdam based production company that creates immersive virtual reality films

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