A Travellerspoint blog

How I remember Uganda

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Uganda is underestimated as travel destination, that's my conclusion after travelling through the country for 3 weeks. Thinking of wildlife most people go to Kenia or Tanzania, where you often have to travel far longer distances to see the parks.
Still, maybe that's what gives Uganda its charm, the fact that the country isn't in the catalogue of big tour operators gives it an authentic, more unspoilt feel. There's enough tourist infrastructure to make Uganda easy accesible, and at the same time you still feel like an independant traveller getting a real impression and taste of the country, that really impresses with it's green and lush landscape.

It's not easy to sum up the highlights, but this description from the Brad guide comes quite close:
"Meeting the eyes of a mountain gorilla? Rafting grade 5 rapids on the Nile? Following a narrow rainforest trail awhirl with the heart-stopping pant-hoot chorusing of chimpanzees? Cruising the Kazinga channel in the shadow of the Rwenzoris while elephants drink from the nearby shore? Watching a prehistoric shoebill swoop down on a lungfish in the brooding reed-beds of Mabamba Swamp? The roaring, spraying sensory overload that is standing on the tall rocks above Murchison falls,...?"

I didn't 'fall in love' with Africa wanting to explore every corner of the continent, and I can't imagine ever living there like our guide Heleen does, but my perception changed. From the onedimensional image brought to us by the media, I now have a much richer and positive view. There's more to Africa than poverty and troubled regimes. Yes, Uganda still has a long way to go, but the country also set giant steps forward since the dark times of the seventies and eighties. It's a country where christians and muslims live together with little or no friction. A country where people living in primitive huts now also walk around with a mobile phone. A country of immense beauty and with unique wildlife.

Posted by Petravs 08:18 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

The Ugandan Eddie Murphy

The last days of our trip set in. We head back to Kampala where we spend the last 2 nights in Cassia Lodge, on a hill offering a fabulous view over town and lake Victoria. We even find a piece of Belgium in Kampala. It's called Le Petit Village, and hosts a hotel, pastry shop, butcher,...We buy a baguette there, it's the closest taste we can get to home, together with the excellent chocolate croissant.
Cassia Lodge is also owned by Belgians,, former politician Johan Van Hecke and journalist Els De Temmerman - who at the time of our stay is in Belgium to give birth to twins at the age of 49. We meet Van Hecke the second night of our stay and he's flying home with the same flight as us, to make it back in time for the birth.

On Sunday night Heleen suggests we go to a dance performance at the Ndere centre, an outdoor venue where the Ndere Troup perform traditional dances and music from Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. The place is sold out, and it turns out to be an excellent night of entertainment. The show lasts 4 hours and we don't get bored. There are costume changes and quite spectacular performing. One of the men is like the local Eddie Murphy, doing stand-up comedy in between performances. Most of the audience is Ugandan, and it's a good introduction to Ugandan humour. They even make jokes about Idi Amin. Obama is called 'Original Black African Managing America'. And there's also a skin colour test which involves audience interaction. THey line up a group of people from Black to brown to white and compare it with how a steak is done, from well done to rare.
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Ugandans are much more willing to participate in the show than Belgians would be. A few women try to dance with vases on their head, like the professionals just did. And when the Rwandan dance is performed, a couple - obviously from Rwanda - joins in. Really nice evening!

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The next day we go into town to explore a market. They sell fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, spices,...It's chaotic, and appeals to the senses strongly. Then we come across people who sell the local snack: grasshoppers! I don't try them, but most others do. Lesley is brave and eats one, though she doesn't seem to be too fond of it. THe women have a whole basket of grasshoppers on their lap. They pull the wings out.
We have lunch in the business district, no grass hoppers on the menu there :-) Before heading back to Cassia we visit some souvenir shops to spend our last shillings.

On this last full day Lesley is the owner of 21 new mosquito bites, she sees her malaria risk rising and looks like she's been tortured! I don't attract the mozzies at all, had just a few bites during the whole trip, but the malaria risk is always there despite Malarone pills, Deet spray and mosquito nets.

We say goodbye to Heleen that evening. Our last dinner together in Cassia lodge. We can look back upon an amazing trip, unique encounters with wildlife, and Heleen did a great job guiding us, telling entertaining stories, and sharing her knowledge of the country and Africa. I can't say the group really stuck together, no new friendships formed, but we had our laughs and share some amazing experiences.

Posted by Petravs 07:55 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

I survived the Bad Place

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White-water rafting on the Nile is another one of those unique experiences. One advise: don't do it unless you absolutely LOVE to be out on the water and are prepared to get completely submerged by the water. A one day rafting adventures takes you about 24 kilometers up the Nile, going through 8 rapids, including two grade 5 ones. So be prepared to tip over. Initially I didn't sign up for the rafting, but the 3 others in our group who did convinced me to join them. I already had an idea of what I was getting myself into because I went rafting in New Zealand. Though that was only a very short session tackling basically one big obstacle, the Okere waterfalls. You cannot compare it with a full day rafting experience on the Nile.
We arrived at the starting point nearly an hour before all the others. Today 50 people would go rafting, a total of about 8 boats. Our gear consisted of a helmet and a swimming vest. We were advised to wear long sleeves and trousers below the knees as protection against the sun. It doesn't really look sexy, but after nearly 20 days in Africa you learn that functionality is more important than looks :-)
Our team consists of 9 people: Sofie, Ellie, Toon and me + 4 American guys + 1 Irish woman. Our captain is Ugandan and I have the feeling we don't make a good impression on him while we do the training right before we hit the first rapid. We practice the paddling, floating, flipping,...And to be honest, some tension kicks in when we do the flip. I end up onder the boat, and I don't like it. ANd this is only still water..
Stil, I've started it, so I'm going ahead! The first rapid is a grade 5, no warming-up, the serious stuff immediately. But we get through it fine and don't flip. Excellent!!
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The names of the rapids go from Big Brother to Point Break, Vengeance, and Super Hole. We tackle 4 before lunch, and 4 after. The hardest one is called Itanda (also known as the Bad Place), it's right by Wildwaters lodge and we have to get on land, because it's actually a grade 6 here (grade 6 = drowning) and the only way to get through it is jumping back in the boat on the part where we can stick to the right side of the rapid, the part that equals grade 5. I look at the raging water and can't wait to be passed this point, it's terrifying!! But we get through all right, and it does feel thrilling.

Lunch is excellent, a well organised buffet - on dry land ofcourse :-) - and then it's time to hit the next 4 rapids. In between rapids there's plenty of time to swim, but to me it often feels like stretching the time. The whole route could easily be done in half a day.
There's a lot of joking on our boat. The Irish woman, Ayshling, actually works for Human Rights Watch in New York.

The last rapid is called Nile Special and our captain asks if we want to hit the 'Great Curve' with a 50% chance of tipping. Everyone says yes, and there we go. As soon as we hit the heart of the rapid, it's clear that we don't stand a chance against the power of the water. We tip over and we end up in the raging water. I see Ellie panicking, but our captain helps her out. I'm floating, and only get my orientation back after a minute or 2 when the worst waves have come over me. We're all drifting, all over the river, and now I know why the rafting company is called 'adrift'. A cano guy gives me a lift to one of the rafts, and they take me to my original raft, where we're short of passengers and paddles. But we've survived! It's clear they tip every boat in the final rapid, not in the least because they take pictures there. But it works, I buy the pictures.

One of the American guys describes his experience of falling out: "Really I could only think about myself, at that moment I didn't care about any of you!" He says it smiling, but also serious. It's true, for a moment you feel that instinct to save yourself. I guess there's a reason why they make you sign a disclaimer before you go on board.

The day ends with a drink and a little BBQ. We say goodbye to our captain and fellow rafters and get on board the big truck that will take us back to WildWaters Lodge. The truck is full of Ugandans, and I enjoy the drive. In the village there's a market and it's hard to get through, people have their stuff stalled everywhere.

It takes one more boat trip to get us to the Wildwaters lodge shore, time to catch up with everyone and enjoy our dinner.

Posted by Petravs 07:17 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Sleeping by the roaring Nile

I admit, on day 18 of our trip I'm craving for fresh bread with Nutella for breakfast! The breakfast in the Brovad hotel consists of sausages, eggs, potatoes, beans,....I decide to eat a banana. Still, prospects are good today. A lond travel day to arrive in one of the most amazing lodges you can stay in, the Wild Waters lodge, on an island in the Nile, with the water racing by. It opened in 2010 and thanks to a special deal, Matoke Tours has a stop there for 2 nights. I think normally the price for 2 nights in this lodge would be too high, but we got a discount :-)

But first there's a long drive ahead of us. Our first stop is right on the Equator where we witness the water test - it actually is true, turning in opposite directions below and above the line, and standing still on the line - and there's a little time for shopping. Around the equator are many souvenir shops. Negotiating the price is the message. Lesley buys a little drum. Just down the road people are selling little chairs, Lesley decides to buy one. It's only 2 euros unbelievable. Price is so low because it's really a product bought by local people.

Next stop is a drum shop. THe men are eager to sell us drums and let us have a look at all the different models. Heleen spots 3 little tables she wants for her restaurant. Negotiating is taken to the max. Just when we are about to drive away, the guy gives in and agrees on the price Heleen offers.
The top of the van is now filled with a chair and 3 tables, although all tiny ones.
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By noon we reach the shores of Lake Victoria. We get on board of little boats in search of the shoebill stork, an impressive prehistoric bird, only seen in a few places. I'm not particularly interested in birdwatching, I don't get excited over every other species and don't remember the names, but the shoebill really is impressive. An adult can stand 150 cm tall, and it has a clog-shaped, hook-tipped bill, 20 cm long. A shoebill can get as old as 50 years, and is generally monogamous. Our guide is a bit of a school teacher and even calls us 'dear class'. But we do see 2 shoebills and get lots of time to observe them. Our boats get closer real slow and eventually we're right near 1. He stands still, turning a bit now and then. Then he takes off. Further down we see the second shoebill, who eventually also flies away. The guide tells us this area is home to about 10 shoebills.
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We continue our drive to the Wild waters lodge near Jinja. It takes us through Kampala again, the busy capital, where we have a stop at a huge supermarket. It's around 4 and the only thing I've had to eat was a banana at 7 am. I buy potato chips and a Mars, really nutritive, but I'm craving for some real chocolate. The Mars doesn't taste like the Mars at home, but I can live with that :-)
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By 6 pm we reach wildwaters lodge. We get picked up by a little boat - again - and we are peddled to the little Nile island where one of the managers awaits us. She leads us to the central dining, pool and reception area and we are impressed. The Nile is right at the doorstep here. It's an impressive wooden building with high ceilings, cosy couches,...The lodges are like villa's. Huge bathroom, private terrace with fabulous views and outdoor bath, luxurious beds, couch,...and the sound of the roaring water of the Nile. Not your everyday place to stay...

Wildwaters Lodge

Posted by Petravs 06:32 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

"I am strong"

We, mzungus, are weak. That's a thought that often came to my mind seeing the locals walking and cycling for miles and miles, carrying heavy loads, going barefoot. That morning as we leave Nguringo lodge and have to climb up the steep hill again to our vans, a young boy fetches our bags. "It's heavy," I say. "Yes, but I'm strong," he says. He puts Lesley's bag on his back, and carries mine on his head, must be about 35 kilo's all together. And there he goes, barefoot. I feel embarassed, I carry nothing but my day bag, and feel out of breath walking up. This boy is maybe 12! We give him his shillings, more than deserved. A few locals stop by again as everything gets loaded into the vans. A mother walks by with 2 kids. THe girl can't be older than 4 and she carries a tool over her shoulder to work the land.
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ANd then we leave, back to Kisoro, and up into the winding roads over the hills. We have one panoramic stop on the way, I think mostly because Fred wants to buy onions at the side of the road. Linda is filming again - she was ALWAYS filming EVERYTHING - and when we want to leave Jaqueline calls out to her with a sharp and loud voice. "Linda!!!!". One of the guys at the side of the road imitates her. "Lindaaaaa !!!!", just hilarious :-)
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We have a late lunch in Mbarara, birth town of president Museveni (also the city where the horned cows come from as several statues of cows prove). We lunch at a western place, hamburger with fries and ice cream to finish. I think some people in our group had fries twice a day during the trip.
After lunch 2 more hours in the car to Masaka where we'll spend one night in the Brovad hotel. On the way we pass Lake Mburo National Park, one of the two places in Uganda where there's a chance of spotting zebra's. And we're lucky once more! We stop 3 times by the side of the road.

The Brovad hotel is a business hoteL. For the first time in weeks we see people in suits! THe rooms are the most inspireless rooms we've had so far, but there's electricity every moment of the day and hot water. SO who cares about the cold neon light?

For dinner we head into town, to the 'Ten tables' restaurant where the thursday dish is chicken fajitas. Some people in our goup mumble, no hamburger, no fries?? To be honest, the fajita didn't make a lasting impression, but at least we had an evening outside the hotel. ANd we got to know the phenomenon of grasshoppers. After rainy season grasshoppers are the local delicacy for a few weeks. They catch them at night using bright light - it's kinda hard to explain here, but you could see the light attracting the grass hoppers. Heleen promises to get us a portion when we're in Kampala, but I've already made up my mind, I'm not eating it!

Posted by Petravs 06:12 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

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