Safari round trip in Uganda
Kids at the popcorn machine in town, Kotido
Uganda is a country of extremes. It's very dry in the summers and rivers overfloat in winters. The north is yellow and the south is green. People are very poor but smile so much. Their clothes are so beautiful and colorful and their food is... Not! Let me take you to my special adventures in Uganda.
The trip to Uganda was a special one. Nothing like any trip I made before. Or after. To start with a small introduction of the country; here life about 40 million people, the average woman gets 5,7 children, the average age is 55 years old and the age below the poverty line is about 17%. English is their official language and even though not everyone speaks this language, it's a start to communicate with many of them -and not only the ones who work in tourism, like in many other countries-).
Uganda has a violent history. They used to be an English colony (1962-1971) and they had two men on power (Adi Amin 1971–1979 and Obote 1966-1971 & 1980-1985) that have done many cruel things to their people. There is much to can see and learn about their history in the capital of Uganda: Kampala.
So what brought me to this poor country without adjoining any ocean or sea? My dear sister!
She was here for a total length of 4 months to teach teachers how to teach the kids of the
school they worked on in the small town Kotido, about a day traveling in a bumpy bus from
Kampala. About 2 months after she arrived in Uganda, me and my dad did too. Let's go safari,
we all said! So we hired a guide and started the journey. Afterwards, I don't think you really
need a guide. You will probably be able to find your way with Google Maps and find some
information on Wikipedia. Uganda felt like a pretty safe country to me and we also had our
big daddy with us. But on the other hand, it is nice to get the full information-experience
and it was nice to ask everything we wanted to know about the country and the people and
the animals to a guide that had answers to 99% of all our questions. We booked with
ReMikable Adventures Uganda: a small company with the super friendly owner Mike.
He informed about what places would fit our wishes best and took care or the guesthouses
we stayed in. Really recommendable!
On this map at the right side you can see how we hopped around. The guide Sam in the
front of the car, next to him my dad that constantly tried to make funny jokes to Sam
who usually didn't understand them. Sometimes me and my sister said something from
the back my dad couldn't understand because he is a little deaf and so he (and we) gave up
after he screamed HEEEEY??? three times. Sometimes we played on our djembe while out of
the speakers we played some typical African music. We had fun.
Uganda in visuals
Amazing dancing show at Ndere Centre, Kampala
But maybe I am a little overenthusiastic about the safari. We started in Kampala, the capital. We stayed in the hostel Bushpig Backpackers were the staff and the other guest were very friendly. Also, the vibe was chill and sometimes people played some music which was really nice, and besides this, breakfast was included. On the first night we went to a cultural dancing show at Ndere Centre and they did things with pots and drums I wouldn't recommend you to do at home. Every tribe has its own special dance and it's great way to see how diverse the Ugandan culture is. Especially when you will travel through the country after, it's nice to know what cultural dance belongs where. Uganda has 17 tribes so... I was also very happy there was a food buffet! For a vegetarian, Uganda isn't the best country to be. The food is pretty simple and with most dishes goes meat and in other area's more fish, but animal is in every local meal. Besides meat, they serve things like brown beans and posho what is made with corn wheat. So just don't go for the food, but for the culture! It's very rich of it and this night showed the best introduction of that.
The day after we went around on the back of boda-boda's; motorbikes that you see driving around like crazy and you shouldn't be to afraid for the hectic traffic otherwise you might end up getting get a panic attack. If you think you might will, better walk and look around you very carefully. The boda-boda drivers took us around the city. We went to the Libiri Palace where you will learn a lot about the harsh history of Uganda and you can see the underground torture chambers from Idi Amin’s time. I would say this is a must go as you will understand and feel their history so much better than only reading about it. We also visited the biggest mosk of Kampala, the Gaddafi National Mosque. Wasn't that interesting for me, but you can have a look and form your own opinion. We also went to a really nice art market named Exposure Africa. There is also a crafts market every Friday along Ggaba Road. We were very unfortunate to miss it. After shopping and bringing all our beautiful presents for ourselves and others to our hostel, we went the biggest slums of Kampala: the Katanga slum. Hello contrast. My sister Yvet met here a few days before mister Michael Jackson, as he called himself. A happy man that told us about the slump: a place were a few thousand people live, where they only recently had more than two showers and toilets, where the organization he worked for (Hope 4 Katanga kids) takes care of street kids of Kampala and where they can, give young orphans a bed, food and education. They also help children with HIV/AIDS to get medicine and support very poor families. MJ gave us a tour through this slum. It was really sad to see all these beautiful children and people in circumstances like these. Hardly any hygiene, small spaces to sleep (sometimes 5 people slept in 1 bed) and cook but... People still smiled a lot and seemed so happy to see us! Definitely something to learn from...
After a day or two, we got out of the busy city and we started our safari. We were so ready and excited to see more from the country and her wildlife! This is us in the our Toyota with pop up roof from inside and outside. Only happy faces invited! :D
We went to Lake Mburo and before we got on the boat, we drove around in our Toyota with pop up roof to check out the wildlife with our binoculars. We saw our first zebra's, two beautiful elegant giraffe's far away and hidden in the bush: a 3,5-meter snake! We tried to see him a little better but not too hard ;) Later on, we did a boat tour and saw a lot of beautiful colored birds, hippos and crocodiles. These last two ones always make things a little more exciting but you were really kinda safe in this wooden boat -hehe-.
As a present, we got a wonderful sunset on our way to the next guesthouse: The Eagles Nest, a beautiful palce on top of a hill. We stayed in a bungalow, pretty cool! The picture from above shows the sunrise from up here which was amazing because you could see far far away. After enjoying the sunrise and our breakfast, we drove back to Lake Mburo, and this time we bicycled between zebras. As Dutchies, this was a very fun experience as we learned to bike almost at the same time as we learned to walk. It's a really nice way to be in their natural habitat without disturbing them too much with engines from vehicles.
And we moved on again. So much more to see in Uganda! It's a big country and we gotta know this: it was about 8 hours drive to our next destination: we were going to head out in the Kibale Forest and look for chimpanzees. We stood up early the day after and there were about 30 other people that were looking for the same. Fortunately we splitted up in smaller groups, and with the 3 of us we had a personal guide; a super friendly older man with a gun on his back. This was needed for the wild elephants that could get aggressive when they would pass us. I was excited to see some elephants in the wild but I was fine not to pass them this time. The guide told us about the jungle and the chimps: how there were different groups and this one they made used to people and also 'used' for science. Only limited days a week people could come over to see them and you were not allowed to get closer than 3 meters away.
It took a while before we found them. Sometimes we heard these yelling monkeys (oeh oeh oeh) far away and we were running towards them, behind the guide through the leaves and forest, but then they were quiet again and we had no clue where to go. It was so exciting though, trying to find these amazing creatures by following their sound. The running-around-the-forest-looking-for-monkeys continues for about 2,5 hours and when we just started to get pretty tired and thinking of going back, we found two by following their noise and many more came after. It was very special seeing a breed very similar to yourself. He could look you in the eyes and you saw he had thoughts and he was moving relaxed but in control.
After dreaming about running through the jungle, we headed more on north. We passed the nice town Fort Portal where we saw more white faces than we were used of these days. Some beautiful guesthouses and restaurants, especially when you like to eat some Western food again -like we did, oops-. But we didn't stay for long and moved on to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. One of the only places rhino's still lived in the wild, as our guide told us. He gave as advice that, in case they came running up to us to attack, to climb into a tree or hide behind one. Check.
Then we moved on to one of Uganda's most famous national parks: Murchison Falls. It obviously had falls, but there was way more to see and our exploration started just before sunrise. This must have been one of the most incredible places to see the sun coming up: palm trees and grass glowing in the color gold, here and there a giraffe, hartebeest or elephant taking a bit of the juicy grass.
We saw many animals and we loved every one of them, but there were a few others (of course) few we really-really wanted to see: cheetas and lions. They weren't easy to spot as they like to live at night and don't like to be seen. But then... We drove out of the park and my sis said: lions!!! We looked to our right side and only two meters away there they were: two big lions. She quickly closed the windows when I got tears in my eyes of overwhelming and excitement. I can't really describe it but it is so beautiful to see these powerfull creatures from so near. One of them was injured which you could by its cripple walking when they walked away. Even though, itwas so amazing to see them from so near with their big head and big strong body.
And like we weren't starting to be a little wild life-overdosed yet, or a tiny bit tired of the continuous sitting in the back of a bumpy car (well actually, very bumpy roads), we continued more up north to Kidepo National Park. Expectations were high as my sister has been told this national park was the one with the most animals. But we didn't see them, probably because in the time of the year we were in Uganda (April) it was dry season and the animals had moved on to more juicy grass. Even though, I liked the park a lot. I loved the dry landscape, to be able to look far away, to see a (sausage) tree here and there, a beautiful colorful bird or some small monkeys hidden in the high yellow grass. The weather wasn't that great but for a change it isn't bad to have something else than a bright blue sky. Makes the pic more intense, righto?
And then it was time to move our ass to the place where Yvet has been teaching the teachers: Kotido! I was very curious to the compound and the little traditional village. Already when we headed that way, we looked our eyes out: farmers with colorful high hats and sticks for their stock, women walking with jerrycans filled with water, a fuel pump you had to manage by hand.
After only a drive of about one hour, we arrived in Kotido. We went straight to the compound where I stayed in Yvet her beautiful hut with traditional straw roofing, our dad in his own next to ours. They were pretty new and also to book for travelers! Later that day we looked around in the village, which was a dusty town, plastic everywhere, some small buildings and self-made houses.
A market with uncovered meat, delicious fresh fruit, homemade popcorn and friendly people that sometimes yelled "Muzungu" to us which means "white people". As I traveled much, I'm used as people treat me different, of a different hygiene standard and another habitat. But here I found what I had been looking for for years: an authentic place, untouched by tourism and the Western World. I loved to see how traditional the place still was, with the people wearing these beautiful colorful clothes, having tattoos carved on their forehead, a special kind of haircut/platting style and men wearing skirts and funny handmade hats.
My dad helped out on the compound and left after a few days. I slept in, played a little with the children when it was their break, helped my sister painting the walls in the school to make it more joyful but also for some education: we made the map of Africa, made painting that could help the kids how to count and made a rainbow with the names of the colors. Besides that, we did spend some time at the local market, went on Sunday to the traditional dancing were hundreds of locals (Karamajong) did their special Sunday dance, all different groups with their own moves.
We also visited the school next to our compound, where I realized how amazing the Akigeno Nursery School was my sister worked. In the public school there were about 100 children in each class (see picture), so there wasn't a lot of attention for your personal progress. Most of the kids stayed on camp during week on big halls with many bunk beds. At the school my sister was teaching, the classes only had about 10 children and it wasn't that much more expensive: only about €10 euro a year, where the public school costs about €30 a year.
And after 1,5 week of being in the dryness and the small town, getting a little crazy from the heat and felt continuously a desperate craving to jump into the drinking water-basin, we left in another bumpy bus towards Mbale. This was a way bigger with here and there some western restaurant but definitely not much. There wasn't much to do, but I liked to walk around as there were some markets and a lot of man with a plastic sail full of second-hand clothes that the first world countries collected for "Africa". These men sold them for about €0,25 per piece, so me and my sis got crazy and bought a lot -of course only to sponsor these poor people-. Uhu. With 2 full bags of clothes and big hugs to my sister, I moved on to Jinja, which was a totally different town. More near to Kampala it was more touristic, but still nice. Shops with local African art like paintings and cars made from bottle caps. Jamaican-rasta Ugandan guys walk around and make you a -ready while you wait - bracelet in your favorite colors. Yes dreams come true in Uganda.
Last sunset in Uganda @ Jinja
And not only dreams come true, also nightmares. Last but not least: let's talk about illness and infections that you can get while traveling in Uganda. There is a reason I didn't put this in the first paragraph as it is not really propaganda. To start with Malaria. My sister got it about 3 weeks after she arrived, even though she took the pills the Dutch Health Inspection give you when you go to a country with a high risk of Malaria. She got really sick one evening, had to throw up all night, took pills you can buy at the local pharmacy for about $2 and got better soon. Even though she didn't have a good time (at all) I got less afraid for Malaria and I didn't take the pills the Dutch Health Inspection also adviced me to take. Then we move on to infections which you can get from food and water (legionella). We eat in many places that were kind of touristic and when we didn't, we had a look at how many people were sitting in this restaurant. Getting sick can happen and it's kinda hard to avoid but watching out where to eat and wash your hands much can and will help. And then the one that made me lose a lot of weight (and health) till a year after I left: Bilharzia /schistosoma and giardia. I found out I had bilharzia about 2 months after I came back in Holland. I didn't feel any hungry anymore and lost a lot of weight, felt down and tired and had diarrhea. It can cause a lot of damage to your body when you don't take treatment (antibiotics). They have this (cheap and good!) in Uganda. After the antibiotic I felt immediately much better for about 6 months again, then it came back. After more tests it came out I still had another infection: Guardia. Treated the same way. About Bilharzia one I'm sure I got it from swimming in fresh water (in a little lake near the chimps-jungle). My sister didn't want to swim in it because she was already afraid to get Bilharzia, my dad went swimming with me and didn't get it. The locals told that this water was safe but already a few days after I had been swimming here I noticed being less hungry. But I blamed the Ugandan food :P
Guardia you can also get from fresh water, but also when you drink infected water or have direct contact with animals and people that are infected. So watch out where you leave your hands and take a dive! Better only in open / salt water, which you don't have much in this country, so better any swimming time ;)
In this lake I got Bilharzia. Doesn't look that terrifying, right?
So, here a reflection. It was a very intense time. It is full on being so far from your comfort zone, day in day out. This had to do with people that treat you different (call you Muzungu and see you're a tourist - fair enough), with the heat, with not having everything forehand on the compound (let's go for breakfast, ah let's find a spoon, okay let's make it clean first, hmmm I have to find water, walk to the other side of the compound...). Life is heard here and you see that. You keep seeing the harsh situation people are in and hear very sad stories about how people have to survive. So this was from my point of few. That is of course by far not what the residents have to suffer from every day. With my whole heart, I hope that their situation will get better soon, that the government will start taking their responsibility and take care of the friendly people of Uganda ❤
Do you want to see more amazing picture I made in Uganda? Head to Photography Uganda !