A Quick Stint Through Uganda

October 26, 2008 - Cairo, Egypt

 Traffic and Tastiness in Kampala

The trip from Moshi in Tanzania to Kampala in Uganda via Nairobi in Kenya was a bit mad - 24 hours of flying along at top speeds along dirt roads, slow speeds through bumpy muddy roads, driving through construction sites, awful traffic and a break-down to top it off right near the end. But it was made more bearable by our friendly welcome. The world's most friendly immigration official, after asking Johanna and I "Are you together?" then asked "Are you in love?". Happy to hear that we were, he chatted to us as he processed our visa.

There are two things that then stand out in my mind from our few days in Kampala. The first is the bad traffic while the second is the great food. A strange combination I know.

Everywhere you looked in Kampala, dozens of minibus taxis, cars and boda bodas (taxi bikes) would be lining the roads trying to weave their way through the traffic. Each would do what they could to gain a slight advantage by inching within centimetres of each other or crossing to the opposite side of the road. The boda bodas were particularly couageous (or particularly stupid) swerving left and right across each other through traffic. It was utter chaos, and made the simple act of crossing the road a life-threatening activity.

But the traffic and associated smog was more than made up for by the great international food. This made not seem like much to those reading back home, but Johanna and I were ecstatic to be eating such meals as gorgonzola pizza, Nile perch carpaccio, fillet steak with roquefort cheese, proscuitto and emmental croissants, shredded beef and even kebabs. What a treat!


Rafting the Nile

Crossing the source of the Nile, where it commencs from Lake Victoria, we headed to Jinja. The backpackers there looked out over the mighty White Nile. So different to the straight Nile I had seen in Egypt, here it wound its way through the green, hilly landscape speckled with small green islands and whitewash. It was incredible to think that this same river would make its way over 3700km through Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. We contemplated its length while enjoying a Nile Special lager and watching the sun set.

The following day I insanely signed up for a whitewater rafting trip down the Nile. I jumped in a red inflatable boat with 5 other blokes. Based on the possibility of our shorts falling off in the rapids, we nicknamed our boat the "Big Six". Sitting on the edge of the raft, we started by paddling our way down more tranquil waters and practicing basic rafting skills. We were ready.

Our trip would take us 30km down the Nile over 12 large rapids rated up to grade 5, the highest you could raft without a special licence. The first couple of rapids were bumpy, but easy enough. But at the third, the Bujagali Falls, the rough whitewater took us over for our first flip of the day. Taken in and under, it went by pretty quickly, but not before I gulped down a mouthful of the Nile.

Back on board, and further down, we approached the largest rapid of the day - the Silverback. Looking mild at a distance, it was not until we came close that we saw it aggressively drop and narrow into another wall of whitewash. We too dropped quickly, and ploughed into the surge, getting flipped again. This time, I went under for longer, holding my breath, before bobbing to the surface amidst the remaining whitewater.

Later, with a break in the rapids, we got to jump in the water with our lifevests and let the current push us along. The turbulent waters below made it quite relaxing. Part of me wished I could float this way to Cairo rather than having to head back to Cairo and fly from there.

We continued along through a few more wild rapids until we got to the final one, known as the Bad Place. As we approached the huge surge, I thought we would flip again. But with a bumpy ride, we paddled through upright, cheering and raising our paddles in victory. In the end, we had flipped 4 times over the 12 large rapids. Not a great ratio, but great fun!


Lake Victoria and the Equator

Back through Kampala, we continued on to nearby Entabbe on Lake Victoria. A sleepy but friendly town, we wandered around the first day eventually finding ourselves at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. After being on safari, it felt a bit sad to see animals behind fences, but took heart in the fact that they had been saved from worse fates. I wonder now if I can ever see a zoo in the same light. But I did enjoy watching the chimps in their pleasant enclosure.

The second day there we created our own boda boda tour of Entebbe. Our two boda boda drivers, both sporting huge smiles with characteristic gaps in their teeth took us around to see some of the "sights" of Entebbe. But as Entebbe has very few sights, it was more of an excuse for us to ride around on the back of their bikes. In any case, they did a great job, showing us some of the lake's beaches, local villages and stopping to admire a long-horned Ankole bull. This brown beast had horns 70-80cm long, and almost tried to buck us when we got too close for a photo.

After Entebbe, we went to Munyonyo for the first Kampala Jazz Festival. Set also on a beautiful spot on the lake, we watched bands perform a mix of African-influenced jazz, funk, rock and acoustic rhythms. An awesome female vocalist led one band, and the large troup from African Beat Nation really got the crowd going.

But the main act we were here for was Oliver Mtukudzi, an older Zimbabwean artist that has been performing since the 70;s. We had heard his music all over Africa, bought a couple of CDs, and were looking forward to seeing him live. We were not disappointed. Dressed all in white, the African icon came out playing one of his catchy tunes to the cheers of an excited audience. Like an old pro, he played a myriad of his songs with real feeling, showing off his smooth moves on stage. To be honest, it was one of the best live performances I have ever seen. What a legend!

The next day, there was one last thing I wanted to do before leaving Uganda. Coming all the way up from South Africa by land, I did not want to miss the oppotunity to stand on the equator and mark the fact that we had travelled half way up the planet. Taking a bus from Kampala, we got off to see a large white, circular sign marked "Uganda Equator", with a large black line splitting the northern and southern hemisphere. One leg each side, we took some photos to mark the event.

Rushing back to Kampala, we caught a decades old, half disassembled bus that made a constant whistling noise back to Nairobi. We had only had 10 days in Uganda, and leaving the green, hilly nation, I felt like we had missed a lot. We had met many friendly people, rafted the Nile, explored Lake Victoria and made it to the equator, and it was all worthwhile. But from this little taste, I think I might have to mark this country down as one to return to one day.


Leaving the "Real Africa"

Kenya and Nairobi were pretty much a non-event. Wanting to avoid downtown "Nairobbery", we caught a taxi straight out to the suburbs and spent most of the last couple of days just tying up loose ends.

But on our last night in sub-Saharan Africa, we did exactly the same as our first night in Africa, and had dinner at the Carnivores chain of restaurants. We overdosed on meat while reminiscing and sharing perspectives on our wonderful 8 months in Africa.

A friendly, little taxi driver took us out to the airport, stopping at 2 petrol stations to put 5 litres of fuel in his tank along the way. As I looked at his smiling face, I became quite nostalgic about our time in Africa. We had had so many amazing experiences and seen so many incredible things. But over the 8 months, the highlight had always remained the people, and the simple interactions we had with them - a smile, a wave, a joke or a friendly word.

So in the end I could not resist. As the taxi driver dropped us off at the airport, I asked "I have a strange request. We have spent the last 8 months in Africa, and are leaving today. Before we go, do you mind if I give you a hug?". He smiled, and possibly not understanding, accepted. I hugged him, and felt like I was hugging all of the wonderful people we had met in Africa. He probably did not get it, but was smiling as he drove away. Try doing that with a taxi driver back home!

And technically, I was lying - we have another 3 weeks in Africa, in Egypt. But I still felt like we were leaving the "real" Africa, and, as much as I was looking forward to Egypt, knew that things would be very different very soon.

So, after killing 5 hours at an almost deserted airport, we boarded ou flight, and finally left the "real" Africa. Kwa heri!


Photos in the Uganda album. Enjoy the slideshow.


Yummo - shawarma time
Jo & her mum - a happy reunion
The Sound & Light Show


October 27, 2008
Hi Jo and Mike,

I have loved reading your travel blog and have lived vicariously through you and Inara over the past 8 mths! (I cannot believe that 8 months have passed since your departure).

I am guessing that you are not too far off heading to Sweden? Enjoy Egypt and I look forward to reading some more.

Safe travels and big hugs

rouky debelak:
October 28, 2008
hi doods, hope you are well settled in sharm...enjoy the warmth as much as you can. great reading again and i nearly cried myself about how you felt when leaving east africa. But very happy to have been able to enjoy part of it with you. love and hugs
Alex Z:
October 28, 2008
Mike and Jo

I'm with Jen - just can't believe that you have been travelling for 8 months. I too, have so enjoyed reading about your adventures and looking at your photos - what fantastic memories you will have. Jo, you are still as gorgeous as ever!
Look forwad to the Egyptian instalment.
Safe travelling
November 2, 2008
Hey guys,

It was great to read your latest installment, but at the same time, a little bit sad as I was not there to share it with you! Feels weird! Can't wait to hear about Egypt - hope you are enjoying your week of luxury!

Big hugs, Narz xx

PS - the 'who's who of Zanzibar' send you their best!
Phil W:
November 4, 2008
Mike and Jo,

It's been awesome reading your journal, you have a great way with words to describe a pretty special trip.

Looking forward to catching up in London on Friday

November 5, 2008
G'day Guys,

As always great to hear about the trip - sitting here very very jealous !

All is going great back here in sunny Melb - we even got engaged a week or 2 ago !

Travel safe - I look forward to the next installment.


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