More stories from Uganda

Kampala

Before I left Munich to start my journey, Domi and Mick offered me the opportunity to stay at their place in case I go to Kampala. I have hardly known them as we have only met once in Munich when Domi and Mick were starting their fatbike journey from Georgia to Greece. I was happy about the invitation, but I wasn’t sure that I will pay a visit to Kampala. Definitely, I didn’t expect that Domi’s and Mick’s home will be my base for exploring Uganda and its neighbouring countries for more than two months. But it was so more than just a roof over my head! When we were not exploring Uganda beautiful nature, I was taught hundreds of applications of the Thermomix. The presence of a reliable butcher in the nearby market allowed us to conduct studies concerning the  limits of weekly beef fillet consumption 😉

Taking a dip in the swimming pool in front of the house rented by Domi and Mick

Even better than the swimming pool was the beautiful tropical garden of the compound that was frequented by wildlife including monkeys

A mantis used the barbed wire for gymnastics

Even a Genet paid a visit to the garden

The assassin bug covers itself with bodies of dead ants to confuse predators

Dinner with Lawrence aka „the king of the mambo“ who taught Domi and Mick dancing and Zahra and Alireza, travellers from Tehran who stayed in the house during a weekend that I have spent in Entebbe. As I was considering where to go next, I quizzed Zahra and Alireza about Iran. Thanks to them, I finally decided to leave Africa for Iran, another country of my top ten „to visit“ list 🙂

I think this is self-explanatory: Kampala hardship 😉

Mabira forest

As big nature lovers, Domi and Mick often escaped Kampala on weekends. Mabira forest 65km to the east on the way to Jinja offered one of the nearby options. To get there, however, one had to leave Kampala before sunrise to avoid getting stuck in heavy traffic on the infamous Kampala – Jinja road that can result in a time penalty of several hours.
When we hiked through Mabira we didn’t see any noteworthy wildlife in the shrinking remains of the once vast tropical rainforest. Parts of the forest have been cut to make space for a sugar cane plantation which pollutes the small river that flows through the forest. It was sad to see the destruction of nature by a ruthless and greedy company. What used to be a charming, full of life river, is currently a black and disgusting industrial sewage.

Ant highways cover the trunk of an old tree


Thorns are an effective protection in the struggle for life in a tropical rain forest


The river going through Mabira forest has been turned into an industrial sewage by the nearby sugar cane plantation


Pigs‘ heaven in the shade of coffee and banana trees near Mabira forest

Paddling with a fisherman over the White Nile near its source at lake Victoria


Welcomed by a fisherman to „his“ island


The fishnet filled with small fish is left to dry before the fish is collected

The White Nile features several rapids in its upper course near Jinja

Fascinated by its tremendous power, we have decided to come back to raft down the White Nile


Strong faith and good lighting is required to survive Ugandan roads at night

Lake Mburo National Park

There is virtually nothing that can’t be transported on a boda 😉

Ready to defend themselves

As I don’t have a telescope-sized telephoto lens, I usually don’t take pictures of birds. But as this weaverbird nested near our camp site, I could get close enough for a good shot.

A curious meerkat

A single hippo-sized bathtub

The nature is better protected in Lake Mburo national park, 220km west of Kampala. It is home to hundreds of zebras, buffalo, various kinds of antelopes, giraffes, eagles, crocodiles and hippos to mention only the most famous species. However, the lack of large predators shows the limits of wildlife protection in Uganda. A significant number of predators is necessary for the ecosystem of the national park to control the herbivore populations which otherwise overuse grasslands and forests. To help with that, a family of lions was reintroduced to the park a couple of years ago but just one lion is said to be still alive. The rest has been killed by farmers fearing for their cattle.
Like in other national parks in Uganda, it is possible to drive yourself on the tracks through the park, which allows you to design your visit according to your interest and taste.
We thought about camping in one of the two campsites inside the national park but abandoned the idea after discovering that one was used as parking space for a restaurant and a sightseeing-boat terminal while the other seemed to be regularly frequented by hippos at night. We could, however, pitch a tent in a lodge near the border of the park from where we saw zebras in the morning.

Karamoja

Until seven years ago the region Karamoja in the North-East of Uganda was off limits for travelers due to frequent tribal clashes and prevalent criminal violence. Horrific stories from the past that I was told about included humanitarian aid workers being ambushed and shot with assault rifles, a priest being beaten almost to death and frequent cattle raids that cost the lives of many villagers as the armament of the locals changed from spears to Kalashnikovs. The people of the region, the Karamojong, were feared by everyone in Uganda and few dared to visit the lawless region. However, the situation changed completely after a forced disarmament began in 2006.  Unsurprisingly, the Karamojong didn’t want to give up their weapons under the premise of lack of government protection from cattle raids conducted by neighbouring heavily armed tribes from Kenya and South Sudan.

However, the Ugandan president and commander in chief of the 45,000 men-strong Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) decided that he cannot keep ignoring the security threat caused by estimated 100,000 illegal guns in the hands of cattle raiding warriors and a five-year long disarmament process started. During nightly raids one village after another was searched for weapons. Unfortunately, hundreds of people died in clashes between the army and warriors who didn’t want to surrender their guns. But the result is exemplary: today Karamoja is a peaceful and safe place you can visit in the same carefree manner as you do in the rest of Uganda. The removal of all firearms brought peace and security to the once troubled region.

One of the Sipi river falls

On the first trip to Karamoja, Mick and I aimed to get to the village of Nakapiripirit on the foot of Mt Kadam which is said to offer nice hikes. After 6h, our bus reached the city of Mbale from where we needed to continue with a minibus, called matatu. We quickly found a matatu to Nakapiripirit which was said to leave „now“, in Ugandan time meaning something like in the next hour. But it took more than two hours until the 14 seats of the pitiful Toyota Hiace got filled with 18 people, the floor with 200kg of flour and the roof with houseware and matoke (cooking bananas). In order to avoid a bridge that was said to be in bad condition, the driver took a huge detour that doubled the way to Nakapiripirit and lead through a mountainous region. The matatu had huge problems to climb the hills when the road got steeper. In the first gear, we dragged uphill meter by meter while running kids were overtaking us. The night broke out when we finally reached the uphill town which was located several hours from our destination. Having reached the highest point of the trip, the driver became more confident and loaded even more matoke on the roof. What he didn’t account for was the bumpy dirt road that began 5km after the town and which was in a very bad condition, washed out and muddy from rain of the wet season that began a couple of weeks ago. Going down, the matatu skidded from groove to groove and almost overturned. Even though we got used to risking our lifes on bodas (motorbikes) in Kampala traffic, we were too afraid of spending the night injured in a ditch. After a short quarrel with the driver, we got off the minibus and walked one hour back to town where we luckily found a decent accommodation. In the morning, we realised that we were only a few kilometers away from the famous Sipi waterfalls, where the small Sipi river falls down three big cliffs up to 87m high, and decided to see those.

Unfortunately, the focus of Ugandan bus companies is on the appearance of their coaches and not their maintenance

As everywhere else in Uganda, you also meet friendly people in the buses. This time it was Hussein, who went on a field trip to Kenya for his sociology studies.

We paid for the luxury seats, which meant that we had one row only for us and our big bags. Otherwise, we would share the three seats with two more people.

We wished one of the bigger, more spacious coaches drove to Nakapiripirit…

After we got off the overloaded matatu, we walked back through the sparsely lit town of Kapchorwa hoping to find suitable accommodation

A thunderstorm over the foothills of Mt Elgon

The highest water fall of the Sipi falls is 87 meters

My drone liked the view


After hiking a while in the hot and humid climate we enjoyed the shower … until later when we saw that people use the water for washing clothes and motorbikes 🙁


The view from Mt Moroto

Mickael and the truck driver who offered us a lift waiting for the road to be opened. The main bridge near the village collapsed seven years ago and now all traffic goes through the centre of the village. As the government did not yet repair the main bridge the villagers demand a toll for driving through the village.

After payment of the waiting trucks and cars the trench in the road was filled up and we could pass

Though matoke is not growing in the rather dry steppe of Karamoja, people seem to like the national food of Uganda here too

Mt Kadam on the horizon

Passing by Mt Kadam

We’ve not been the only hitchhikers…we shared the cabin with three more Karamojong and I guess another 20 have been on the load floor. Most of them got off at this junction one hour away from Moroto.

Mt Moroto in the morning sun

A 1-hour boda rife brought us from Moroto to the trail head in the village of Tapac

Leaving last tukuls of the village of Tapac after starting our hike on Mt Moroto

After a bit of scrambling on the last meters we reached one of the peaks of Mt Moroto. It’s me, not a cross on top of the peak 😉

Mick poses with our guide and a karamojong tribesman on the right

Under supervision, we were allowed to try out the bow

The primeveal forest that covers the slopes of Mt Moroto is protected by the local population who successfully fought against the plan of the government to sale the area to a company

Admiring on of the biggest trees in the forest

Like in the Rwenzori mountains bomboo is growing in a narrow altitude band

We’ve been quite lucky to see the region in blossom as the first rain of the rainy season hit Karamoja a couple of weeks ago

On our way back a family was happy to show us their place

After admiring the waterfalls, we hitchhiked towards Nakapiripirit. Hitchhiking turned out to be a much better way of travelling than using matatus. Not only did we have more space but also interesting conversations with the drivers. When a truck driver offered us a ride to the town of Moroto we decided to skip Nakapiripirit in favour of a hike on Mt Moroto, apparently the most beautiful in the region. And Mt Moroto with its primeval forest on one of its flanks didn’t disappoint. A well-educated young Karamojong, who works in the Christian mission in the village of Tapac on the foot of Mt Moroto, guided us a to one of the peaks of Mt Moroto and back through the beautiful forest. It`s well advised to go with an English speaking local guide to establish communication with the locals you come across on the way and the majority of who, due to lack of education during the turbulent past, don’t speak English. The locals around Mt Moroto are afraid that their land might be sold by the government to foreign companies, who will cut the forest and exploit natural resources. It is good to make it clear that this is not your intention.

A couple of weeks later, we returned to Karamoja with our own car for a hike on Mt Kadam. On the way, we made a stop in Jinja to raft the rapids of the White Nile. The hike to the top of Mt Kadam was less successful this time as the guide led us into a dead-end below a cliff. Nevertheless,  the view from there was beautiful. The next day we continued to the Kidepo valley national park in the far north-east of Uganda. The park boasts of huge herds of buffalo and other wildlife but is less visited than the other national parks due to its remote location. However, we didn’t think about the Easter weekend, which brought dozens of people who sat around a campfire and load music wa played until 11.30 PM 🙁
But the walking safari the next morning compensated for the evening. Though we didn’t see any of the big predators, we have most definitely enjoyed the hike through the savannah and over rocky hills with plenty of buffalo, antelopes and warthogs. Exploring the national park on foot gives you more freedom than by car as you’re not bound to the tracks. Also, on foot one approaches nature with the right amount of respect as you become part of it again to some extent.

Pulled in one of the biggest rapids of the White Nile

The Nile is defintely white over here 😉

To our and our guide’s surprise, the raft has neither capsized nor has anyone gone overboard

A thunderstorm made the adventure on the White Nile complete

As most places on the slope of Mt Kadam are covered with dense forest and bushes, this was one of the few spots offering a view into the valley

We came across several simple shelters like this one. They are used by men busy with harvesting leaves of a tree that is similar to khat and that contains amphetamine.

Taking a break to filter fresh water from a little stream


We took a break before turning around after realizing that we had ended up in a dead-end below a cliff

When we were almost back at the car, I had a look back on a cliff of Mt Kadam lit by the last sunlight. We hiked from sunrise to sunset without even reaching the top as the thick vegetation slowed us down significantly.

A young Karamojong demonstrated his bow to us and Mick volunteered as a target 😉

Under supervision, we were allowed to try out the bow

We took a break in a small town on our way to the Kidepo Valley national park

On our way further North, in the middle of nowhere, we came across several hundred Karamojong who celebrated Easter in a very African way 🙂

The youngsters got super excited

Like the neighbouring tribe of the Turkana in Kenia, the Karamojong are famous for their colorful dress and hairstyle

The kids‘ curiosity made it difficult for us to leave 😉

Domi and Mick invited my wife and I to their wedding in the summer in Poland. The dress code was set to traditional clothes and I came up with the idea of attending as an Karamojong. In Moroto I bought a colorful blanket and a hat, though the color of the hat didn’t match my clothing perfectly and it lacked the important ostrich feather. However, I was lucky to find this kind man on the road, who happily exchanged his worn out and slightly burned, but colourful hat for my new one 🙂

We set out for the walking safari at sunrise

Homo sapiens looking for prey

The only wildlife that couldn’t run away 😉

The ranger couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw those lazy leopards 😉

This tree has chosen a rather difficult and confined place as its home

Unfortunately, the massive fruits of the sausage tree are not edible, neither raw nor grilled

Comments ( 4 )

  • Thomas

    Hi Thomas, schön zu lesen und sehen, dass du wohl auf bist und die Reise unendliche Entdeckungen für dich parat hält.
    Liebe Grüße,
    Thomas, Anne und Leonie

    • thomas

      Gut zu wissen, dass jemand meinen Blog liest 😉
      Zugegebenermaßen bin ich mit meinem Blog schon einige Monate hinten dran, aber ich werde weiter machen, um meine Erfahrungen mit euch zu teilen. Es wäre zu schade ich würde alles für mich behalten…
      Viele Grüße aus Khartoum, wo ich gerade Gosia besuche

  • thomas

    Nice to hear you like the video, it took me ages editing the 3 minutes clip …

  • Steffen

    Hi Thomas, nice that the stories of your travels go on. I really like the mantis. The video film is very well done – you should submit a film contribution for a outdoor film festival. Already thought of that? Greetings from the Thuringian forest – for once with rain.

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