Friday, 14 January 2011

Uganda was not our first choice for a holiday destination. We were mainly visiting family. We were, however, amazed by the tourism potential the place had despite relatively poor infrastructure. Kampala airport is tiny, especially when you consider it is country's main one. The roads were pot-holed and the traffic was sometimes diabolical. However, once you get past the lacklustre surface, the country has an awful lot to offer. It is lovely and green with a temperate climate. The great lake Victoria which is Africa's largest lake covers a substantial portion of this country. Uganda is also the location for the source of the White Nile which joins the Blue Nile at Khartoum. The country has a large and diverse population of wildlife and the locals are warm and friendly.

We spent the first couple of days acclimatising as we had moved from an icy -10 deg weather to a lovely 30 degree heat. We spent New Years in Kampala with family and that was an experience. There was a bomb threat looming over Kampala but that did not deter the locals from swarming clubs and Churches and gathering in large groups. Our late night drive around Kampala had me very nervous but luckily nothing happened.The Sheraton hotel had some fabulous fireworks on which we enjoyed from the comfort of our balcony. Our first big trip in Uganda was to Lake Mburo. We stopped en-route to take a few pictures at the Equator. Now I've been to the Equator in Ecuador where the locals had cashed in on the potential of this imaginary line and there were  quite a few things to see and do. In Uganda, you just stopped by the road and took a few shots and if bothered, you could try out a couple of experiments using relatively makeshift apparatus.

The last 25kms to Lake Mburo were pretty horrific especially as we were in a saloon car rather than a 4WD. We started at the Nshara gate which was closest to the Zebra and Eland tracks. While we did not see an Zebras or Eland for a while,we did spot several Topi and Warthog. Closer to the second gate we managed to see more and more Zebra and there were a lovely sight. I think Zebras are so very stylish. As it was still mid afternoon and hot, they were a bit away in the shade. Closer to the water we got to see more wildlife and some lovely birds. You can also do boat safaris on Lake Mburo and go hippo and crocodile spotting. The most random thing that happened there and possibly in Uganda as a whole was bumping into the Uganda Kannada Sanga ( sanga means association). When they realised I was from Mangalore, they were very excited. and wanted to speak to me in the local dialect. We also spent an afternoon at Munyonyo on the shore of Lake Victoria. Speke have a resort there and it also happens to be a popular wedding and party venue. I saw a few Ugandans dressed in Sari and Salwar Kameez and that made an unusual sight. What I haven't mentioned before is that Uganda has lots and lots of Indians, mostly business people. Even after the Idi Amin saga, Indians still control the economy of the place. My husband jokes that Uganda is actually a colony of India.

What I didn't realise  until I got to Uganda and checked out its supermarkets is that Africa can be bloody expensive. Corn flakes, powdered milk, kitchenware, chocolate were all nearly the same and in some instances twice as expensive as the UK. Mostly because a lot of these things are imported. As a result, we didn't really shop much other than a bit of coffee and the odd handicraft trinket. Uganda is a lot like Kerala or Mangalore (India) as you can find loads of banana trees, jack fruit, mango, pineapple, tapioca etc. Fruit and veg are abundant and when bought from local vendors, cheap. The other things that really struck me was the sheer poverty and lack of water. Every time we were out and about we saw both adults and children carrying jerry cans filled with water and walking several miles to fetch them.

We spent a night at Jinja which is close to the source of the Nile and Lake Victoria. The boat ride to the source of the Nile was tranquil especially as we started relatively early in the morning. It is also a great place for spotting a variety of birds. The drive from Jinja to Bujgali falls was dusty but well worth it. I found the strangest sign outside one of shops that said ' Avoid Morning Sex Africa'  Very curious indeed. Bujgali is also a great site for white water rafting although probably not for long as a new hydro power station is being built in the area.

Before we headed back home we also spent a couple of days around Kampala. While its probably not your ideal shopping destination, there are a few handicraft shops near the National Theatre that are worth a visit. You can also haggle which is a bonus. We also visited the Kasubi tombs ( a world heritage site) which was burnt down and now being reconstructed, the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals and the Martyrs memorial which has a disturbing story to tell. What we did not do while in Uganda was go see Gorillas although it is one of the world's best places for doing so. The $500 per person permit seemed prohibitive as we had already shelled out large amounts on safaris in nearby Tanzania.

Uganda is definitely worth a visit  but as with most places, good planning is key. We were fortunate to have family that did a lot of it for us. Also, it's probably worth clubbing visits to a couple of places together as internal airfares are relatively inexpensive. Ann x


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