We were relieved when we landed in Entebbe and drove to the hotel through the relaxed and charming city on the shore of lake Victoria. We didn’t have any trouble getting a visa, though we forgot to apply for it online prior coming to Uganda as we were supposed to. Strolling around the hotel searching for fruit and street food confirmed our positive impression of Uganda. People seemed a bit surprised seeing Mzungu’s buying local food in their neighbourhood instead of European food in one of the fancy malls along the main road. But the surprise on the faces of some shopkeepers turned into a smile when we stopped by. Generally, Ugandans are quite chatty and you won’t feel alone while strolling through the town.
After three tiresome weeks in Southern Ethiopia, we rested in Entebbe for a couple of days. Apart from the northern parts, Uganda is predominantly Christian and we had the chance to see how people celebrate Christmas in this part of the world. There’s almost no decoration in the streets. Only in hotels and malls decorated Christmas trees reminded us of Christmas. Many families go for lunch and/or dinner to restaurants at the shore of lake Victoria. Woman wear colourful dresses and men their best suits. I felt quite underdressed in my outdoor-traveller-look. Young people celebrate Christmas at the beach with barbecue and drinks. The most popular place for youngsters in Entebbe and Kampala is Aero Beach located next to the airport. This place is a surreal mix of an aircraft graveyard, sculpture gallery and a dance club. Most aircrafts (particularly an Airbus A300) are relicts of Operation Entebbe, an Israeli raid to free hostages of the hijacked Air France Flight 139 held at Entebbe Airport. The beach was quite crowded and reminded me of the pictures of Chinese swimming pools where you couldn’t see water because of the number of people. In 2015, the Boxing Day party at Aero Beach ended tragically. 13 people drowned when the military took control over the overcrowded place using tear gas and panic broke out.
There are many nice restaurants and clubs along the shore of lake Victoria leaving only few places open to the public
The Air France Airbus A300 that was hijacked in Athens by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells in 1976
One of the MiG-21 destroyed during Operation Entebbe
According to the locals, the first Tarzan movie was shot in the botanical garden of Entebbe. The place is beautiful and has a jungle feel to it in some parts.
After two days in calm Entebbe we raised our blood pressure by paying a visit to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Traffic in the fast growing metropolis is chaotic. Especially boda-bodas drive against all known rules and use every millimetre to circumvent others. They ignore traffic lights and one-way streets and drive on the sidewalk if they see fit. When you drive a car, you feel surrounded by bodas overtaking you left and right just a couple of centimetres next to your mirrors. And the matatus (minibuses) that stop on the roadside to pick up passengers and start moving without any notice, didn’t make life easier when I tried to get used to driving on the wrong side 😉
In the huge Ovino market one may purchase many local products. Here clothes manufactured with a smile 😉
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
From Kampala we drove further north to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary where white rhinos are hold like a treasure. Uganda was once home to white rhinos but poachers killed all of them during Uganda’s dark years. Much effort is made in Ziwa to safeguard the dozen rhinos that were either brought here from different zoos or were born in Ziwa. A huge electric fence surrounds the sanctuary and two armed rangers follow each group of typically two rhinos day and night. Definitely, not an easy job, as rhinos can cover up to 20km during the night and their live in a territory comprising bushland and swamps, featuring snakes and leopards. White rhinos are a rather even-tempered species and don’t mind the presence of humans as long as they leave them enough space and don’t interrupt. The rangers have to keep the right distance and neither loose sight of the rhinos nor to hassle them. The water sources close to the camp are frequented by the rhinos almost every night and we could watch them passing by closely while we had dinner.
Murchison Falls National Park
Further north, we paid a visit to the Murchison Falls National Park. Apart from hiking along the waterfall that gave the national park its name and the obligatory boat trip on the river Nile, we drove through the north-western part of the area where a lot of game can be seen. We spent the New Year’s Eve in a lodge inside the Budongo Forest. We were quite tired after the walk through the forest and would sleep through the New Year if one of the rangers did not welcome it with a shot from his Kalashnikov.
The biggest khaya grandifaliola mahogany tree in Budongo Forest
In struggle for sunlight, some species of ficus follow a parasitic way of life. After their fruits are eaten by monkeys and dropped on a branch of a host tree, the ficus seedling will send its roots down the host tree to provide nutrients for the plant from he soil. While growing, the ficus will send more and more roots down covering the trunk of the host tree and eventually strangle it. The dead host tree decomposes and the ficus, now living in a hollow trunk, takes its place.
Next day we continued to Fort Portal on a dusty road and after spending the night there, we carried on to the nearby crater lakes. Everything inside the car including us got covered with dust as we had to drive with open windows due to an unbearable noisy ventilation in the car. Seeing woman in shiny dresses and men in spotless suits walking along the street to Sunday Mass made us wonder if the locals have a dust repellent 😉
Searching for a place to spend the night in the crater lake area we came across Papaya Lodge which is beautifully set on the edge of the crater of an extinct volcano. Quickly after entering the lodge that is build of the finest wood and makes for a perfect hideaway we have realised that this place is waaaaaay above our budget. However, after a conversation about life in Uganda and other African countries, the Polish owners invited us to stay in one of their luxurious cottages. Needless to say, we enjoyed the exceptionally good food 🙂 It was exciting to hear the stories of Magdalena and Sebastian, the owners of Papaya lodge, who have told us about how they built the lodge and reforested the rim of the crater. I couldn’t believe that ten years ago the crater was covered with maize and bush. Sebastian planted seeds and seedlings of indigenous and endemic plants himself. Places like the botanical garden in Fort Portal focus on preserving plants endemic to Uganda and especially the region of the Albertine Rift and sell seedlings to those interested in restoring the ecosystem. Reforestation is more complex than just putting the seedlings of all plants and has to follow a certain schedule: robust, fast-growing plants are planted first to provide shade and moisture to more sensitive and slower-growing indigenous species.
Volunteering in Lubanda
In the beginning of January, my wife Gosia returned to her job. Her deployment was in Amman from much needed humanitarian aid is provided to people in South Syria. I stayed in Kampala as I wanted to spend more time in Uganda. In the hostel I met Steffi, Lisa and Mario. Steffi and Lisa did a round trip through western Uganda and met Mario on a campsite in Murchison Falls National Park. They dragged me to an „Irish“ pub close to the hostel, where two other friends from the campsite celebrated the sale of a company. The crowd of drunken expats, tourists and local woman tested my forbearance after more than two months spent in mostly rural and conservative places. The next day, Mario went to a small village to volunteer for a small NGO called HUG that is supporting a health clinic and a secondary school in the village of Lubanda. I followed him three days later and was warmly welcomed by David, who established the community initiative in Lubanda ten years ago. It was great to see Mario again, now working on a construction site for an additional building of the secondary school of Lubanda. Obviously, he enjoyed working together with the locals and already learned some of the local language called Luganda as not all of them spoke English. We stayed in a simple hut with Kiiza who works in the laboratory of the health clinic. Next to the health clinic was a community hall where woman produce bags and wallets from local fabrics and where we had breakfast and dinner. On my first day, we were mainly assembling steel rods and wires to reinforce the concrete structure of the building. Of course, we needed some instructions first as we had no idea how to build a house using bricks and concrete. It was amazing to see how accurately a house can be build without any machinery and with simple tools. Laying bricks the next day was highly satisfactory as we made a lot of progress with the construction. It took me a while to get used to working on a scaffolding erected from a few wooden poles held together by rope and faith. I admire the workers who probably could work on the scaffolding blindfolded!
On my way to Lubanda I enjoyed the best rolex, tasty street food made of scrambled eggs and vegetables wrapped in a chapati flatbread
Posho for breakfast
The thick version of posho with foul (beans) for lunch. Not a delicacy, but did its job to fill the stomach 😉
Close to the secondary school a group of woman prepared matoke, the national food of Uganda
To survive the unbearable heat, Mario and I took off our jackets and refreshed ourselves with a beer
The gifts for the parents of the bride-to-be included sacks of sugar, detergents, fuel, flour, beer, chicken and an armchair
At the weekend David took us and five Australian girls who were volunteering in the health clinic to the introduction ceremony of his friend. Before a couple gets married, the man has to be officially introduced to the parents of the woman. The introduction is accompanied by both families, many friends and a lot of gifts. After several dances and speeches and a thorough inspection of the gifts, the parents of the bride-to-be accept the man as their future son-in-law and he is allowed to propose. The Ugandan introduction ceremony looked like a wedding to me with games, the ritual of exchanging the rings and finally a cake.
Unfortunately, Mario had to leave the next day to get back to his job in Barcelona. I joined him as I planned to hike through the Rwenzori mountains and on top of the Nyiragongo volcano soon to take advantage of the present dry season.