Saturday, August 25, 2012

A week in Uganda

During planning we had been looking forward to visiting Uganda with its big green forests and position on Lake Victoria. However as Uganda came closer our thoughts and plans changed and we opted to spend only a week or so there. We decided this for a few reasons: 1) Uganda had increased its National Park prices quite dramatically to the point that it would have cost $150 per day just for our car. We had seen lots of parks in Rwanda and didn’t feel the need to spend an extortionate amount of money on this in Uganda; 2) The recent Ebola outbreak in Uganda’s west, the exact area we had wanted to start off in, and; 3) The time factor. Starting to run out for time we were keener to spend extra time in Kenya than in Uganda.

More hills as we drove into Uganda
Our arrival in Uganda immediately made us feel better about our decision with it taking nearly 2 hours to get through that side of the border. There were police “checks” on top of the usual immigration process which took forever because they only had one woman on the desk “because it was Sunday”. Tell that to the many people waiting in the queue! Then we had an issue with getting our car in, with customs requesting an additional $25 on top of the Carnet. This would have been ok had they accepted US dollars like at immigration but instead they wanted us to ILLEGALLY exchange US dollars for Ugandan Shillings with a dodgy money changer at the border. We resisted for about 15 minutes but being impatient as we are we gave in and just changed the money to get out of there. Definitely an “Africa” moment.

Common site in Rwanda and Uganda: Refugee camp for those escaping the problems
of DRC. To me, these are the people the rest of the world has forgotten about
Our first night in Uganda was in Kabale, only an hour or so over the border. Literally an overnight pit stop we headed off early the next day for Kampala but were soon met with some extremely bad roads and roadwork’s making our 400km plus drive feel as though it may never end and take more than a day. We arrived in Mbarara at lunchtime feeling angry and frustrated, however the stop was probably a good one for us and the road after improved dramatically for the rest of the way.

First beer we tried in Uganda. This one was actually not my
favourite; I preferred Nile Special
Our arrival into Kampala was greeted by absolute chaos! Peak hour traffic, roundabouts unable to function and then we got “kicked off” the road by some MPs motorcade. We had to drive poor Ruth off the side of the road, at least a 50cm drop, so that some dude could demonstrate his importance to the rest of the world. Bloody Ugandan (African) politicians!

Roundabout chaos
Peak hour traffic
In Kampala we stayed at Red Chilli Hideaway, a backpackers in the middle of Kampala with a great location and great facilities. We had a few night in Kampala however really didn’t do a lot while we were there. We made one lame attempt to see some tombs but got so annoyed by the traffic in the city centre we turned Ruth around and headed back to our hideout. Kampala for us was really a chance to get a few administrative things done (e.g. scoping out the job front in Oz, emails, blogging, etc) making it productive, albeit not particularly touristy.

@Red Chilli Hideaway
Our next stop was Jinja on Lake Victoria, famous as the source of the White Nile and as Africa’s “Adventure capital”, the later I would dispute after living in Livingstone, Zambia.

Jinja was a nice, quiet sort of town. We stayed around 8km outside the main town at Eden Rock Resorts but in hindsight wish we had stayed across the road at Explorers River Camp; it would have been slightly cheaper and no noisier than Eden which was accommodating around 15 of the loudest Irish girls I’ve ever crossed!  

Eden Rock Resorts from the road
View of the Nile River from the bar at Explorers River Camp
There is a lot to do in Jinja because of the river. Rafting is a big draw card however due to damming of the river around 12 months ago, about half of the rapids no longer exist. I ummed a lot on rafting but decided in the end not to do it; Mike didn’t care either way claiming that it wasn’t going to be good compared to the Zambezi anyway. And so we opted for a sunset river cruise where we met some interesting people including a group of 3 who were writing for a business magazine and had a lot of information on recent oil discoveries in Uganda. The food was also lovely on the cruise and provided in larger quantities than we had expected (and a bit of a dinner spoiler).

Mike into the beer before the cruise has even left!
The Nile River
Some of the tasty food we had on the boat
The Jinja Bungee Jump: Looked kind of close to the rocks to me
Impact of damming the river
River cruise at sunset
We did a visit to the “source” of the White Nile. Not the most exciting attraction we’ve been to, but I guess I can now say that I’ve been there.

Source of the Nile..... around about here!
And just to prove I was there!
We also had a go at the funniest course of mini golf I’ve ever played on. We encountered a young goat who thought it would be fun to run across the course while we were playing and we kept having serious issues with getting our balls to reach the holes as the surface was so uneven they kept rolling in all the wrong directions (I swear it was the course and not our elite mini-golf skills!). Despite the obstacles though, I did beat Mike, yay!!!

Studying my shot
Mike in action
All in all we had a pretty good time in Jinja. It’s a pretty relaxed town with enough to do over a few or more days. Still, we heard Kenya calling us and knew we must stick to our plan to leave Uganda after a week in order to see as much as possible in Kenya.

Main street in Jinja on a Sunday
Tree lined street in Jinja
And the most horrible birds! We saw these throughout Uganda and they were
always going through the rubbish

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