The Pearl of Africa.....? I think maybe so!
BLOG 21 – Uganda – Part 2
My previous Blog (# 20) was a brief “highlights of Uganda”, the below blog is more about the route and where we went and my feelings of various places. And as I have been super lazy over the past 6 weeks it is quite a long blog! (sorry!)
On arrival in Uganda in early April, we had 3 things on our “to do/see list” – Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth Park and Dev wanted to climb Ruwenzori’s. Besides that, we had nothing else but a blank canvas in which to explore anywhere our hearts desired! With advice from lodge owners, game rangers, locals, other travellers and expats we were able to see so much of this amazing country and no doubt places we very well might have missed. This “unplanned/unscheduled” element of our trip has been so awesome. Besides our very first 10 nights of the entire trip, we have not booked anything else. We have had a rough idea of where we would like to go but NO set plans, not set dates, nothing. We have loved this as it has really given us a huge sense of freedom and also the chance to see places we definitely would not have seen. And I think being on a journey like ours, one needs to NOT plan, not book, not stress and rather just “go with the flow”. Before this trip I was very much a planner and liked everything sorted and planned but this trip has been incredible in freeing me of these confinements which are so unnecessary. Yes of course when one has a year to play with you do have the luxury of this “freedom” as opposed to only a week or 2 week holiday….
Uganda is vast and diverse and has so much to offer in terms of visually different scenery and activities to do. Having entered Uganda from Tanzania near Lake Victoria, our first official stop was Lake Mburo (Leopards rest camp) – we did not know much about this place but once there realised this little game reserve had little of the “big game” but rather only zebras and giraffe and having just been in Serengeti we decided to rather save some cash and just stay outside the park and chill and absorb the new country we were in.
Our next stop was Lake Bunyonyi in SW Uganda near the Rwanda border, which is a 26km long lake with about 29 islands scattered in it – making this a visual dream!! Bunyoni is surrounded by emerald green terraced hills. After searching for a flat campsite with lake views and near the lake we eventually found the “perfect” spot a little out of the village. The campsite which was “under construction” so had no facilities, but was on an elevated area above the Lake, affording the most breathtaking views over the lake and surrounding hills. A very peaceful place which mirrored the different light throughout the day.
We took an amazing boat trip to the biggest island on the lake (Bwama) which was previously a Leprosy treatment centre (1921) – a perfect isolation place for the infected. The old sturdy quintessential buildings are now used as a school for vulnerable children. These kids are housed, feed, counselled and educated here on the island. This island emitted a real sense of healing and warmth. Another “famous” island was “punishment island” a TINY minuscule island in the middle of the lake where unmarried pregnant girls were left. As they could not swim they inevitably died! (unless a man wanted to boat there and take on the girl. Terrible!) After 3 nights with no toilets (and very few bushes to hide behind!) and bathing in the cold lake becoming a bit tiresome we decided it was time to move on.
Our drive from Lake Bunyoni, took us through forests, perched on massive hillsides and through rural villages relying on their small acres of coffee or tea. This was proper rural beautiful Uganda. Our next stop was the southern section of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ishasha, a remote less visited area. In QE we bumped into our Israeli/French friends (Omri & Adele) we had met in South Luangwa – it is always so good to see familiar faces when on the road & we got to meet Omri’s family which was so special!
Ishasha is known for its tree climbing lions and after many game drives we only saw the ground type!!!! This was our first encounter of the mandatory 2 armed night watchman and a game ranger watching over us for the night - they practically sat with us all with their AK47s!!!!!! It leaves you feeling both protected and absolutely terrified! But I must say with the DRC literally a stone's throw across the river from our tent, I was ok with these massive guns in my face!!!! Sadly the rain did not plays its part and game was very scarce in this area.
The Northern section of QE lies between Lake Edward and Lake George with the Kazinga Channel running between these two lakes. QE lies within the western Great Rift Valley and the flat valley floor is dotted with Euphorbia’s and the red sand earth. We found a very nice campsite at Kasenyi Lodge which overlooked a red crater lake plus had lovely ablutions (cold shower only but sit down flush toilet!) As a whole we enjoyed QE but did not love it as much as what was to come. But at least the incidents with our tent nearly being blown away made you all laugh!!!!!!! (and thankfully me to)
Dev then went to climb Ruwenzori’s while the kids and I stayed in a lovely lodge with swimming pool and gorgeous views and a place we felt safe without Dev. This was a good week but hard being apart for 6 days after all being together since xmas. Sadly, Dev was unable to reach the summit as got bad altitude sickness and said that should something have gone wrong there was absolutely no way they could have got help (no signal and a treacherous hike to get to where they were). But he loved the experience and the kids and I got to catch up on a LOT of schoolwork in his absence.
Lake Albert – We had a wonderful invite from a brother of a friend of Dev’s to come and stay at his Lodge on Lake Albert. What a treat to be in a gorgeous safari tent with meals catered for us! What blew us away was the sheer vastness of this lake. We did not expect it to be so huge. And still the same MASSIVE DRC mountains protruding into the skyline as the ones we had seen MONTHS before at Lake Shore Lodge on Lake Tanganyika!!! DRC is M A S S I V E !
Murchison Falls – famous for the falls and the much sought-after shoebill. Sadly, due to the very high water levels the shoebill has not been seen for many months as the reed / papyrus habitat is under water! However, the falls seen in full flood are magnificent. The sheer size and volume of water running through the 6m gap was astounding. There was so much water that even more waterfalls have formed off the other ledges which have apparently been dry for over 20 years! It was breath-taking, LOUD and my new word….”awe’spiring”!
Besides just the falls there is the most amazing game reserve north of the river Nile. A delta area is formed where the Victoria Nile (flowing from Lake Victoria) runs into Lake Albert then very quickly turns NE and flows towards South Sudan as the Albertine Nile. This land between the rivers is incredible – massive palm trees & raffia palms, open savannas with a few sections of acacia trees. All the while sloping down to the Nile river on both sides. Ellies, buffalo, leopard, lion, Ugandan Kob, Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, Grey Headed kingfishers….. this place was stunning! We stayed at Red Chilli Campsite very close to the “bridge” across to the northern section. Very basic campsite but lovely sitting area and cheap meals.
From there we had a long drive to Kidepo Game reserve which is in the very north eastern section of Uganda on the South Sudan border. Now this place is wilderness at its best. And if you haven’t gathered this yet about the Fogg family these are the places we love most! From the low-lying areas, you climb through these vast mountain ranges and on topping out you then see before you this immense emerald green valley, interspersed with Acacias and little koptjies…… Kidepo Valley! We stayed in an amazing remote camp known for regular visitations from lions. Perched on top of a little hill with 360-degree views you really don’t need to leave your tent. They promised us showers and flush loos……. Well these they did have….. however there was no water! So pit latrine and bucket baths were the order for the next 5 days! The weather was not on our side and we soon realised the rainy season was truly on us. Whenever the rain stopped, we dashed out to slip and slide around the park and just immerse ourselves in this stunning place. We met a lovely South African couple who live in Kampala who very kindly took us for a picnic in a riverbed right up north in the park. The kids dug for fresh water, ate palm-nuts and dug themselves a pool and we sat under massive trees IN the river bed! Awesome memories!
With all our stuff damp and the rain coming down more frequently and the roads becoming even more slippery, we packed up camp and headed to our current “home” in Jinja.
A real house with walls, windows and kitchen, bedrooms and a HOT shower and proper toilet!!!! Plus amazing hosts with kids, a massive garden with dogs and the river Nile at the foot of the garden. Our little piece of heaven for 2.5 weeks! And here we are catching our breath, putting our feet up, letting some of the rainy season pass us by and just enjoying staying in one place…… Already I am feeling a little sad to be leaving this country that has given me so much in terms of learnings and warmth. And opened up my eyes to real beauty. We have been truly blessed to visit this country and see all these amazing vastly different places. x